German Regulators Craft Guidelines Addressing the Ethical Issues Raised by Driverless Cars

28 August 2017 Dashboard Insights Blog
Author(s): Lauren M. Loew

As driverless cars prepare to enter the roadway, regulators are closely considering the implications of how software is programmed. When faced with an imminent risk of collision or injury, how will the software decide which course of action to take? How will the software weigh the impact on different people, animals, and property?  Dashboard Insights has been raising these questions since 2014, and now, the parameters are beginning to take shape in other countries.

In June, the ethics commission of the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure released guidelines (German language guidelines) for self-driving vehicles (English language summary). At the time, German Federal Minister Dobrint touted the “pioneering” work as the “first guidelines in the world for automated driving” addressing these ethical issues.

Now, the Ministry has announced it will implement those guidelines.

So what do the ethical rules require?  There are 20 guidelines, with key portions summarized below:

  • Driverless car technology must “prevent accidents wherever this is practically possible.”
  • The protection of human life is the foremost priority. The systems “must be programmed to accept damage to animals or property in a conflict if this means that personal injury can be prevented.”
  • Programs cannot weigh the value of one human life over another in ways that are “ethically questionable”. Any distinction based on “age, gender, physical or mental constitution” is prohibited.
  • The public sector must license and monitor the software.
  • Laws must reflect the transition of accountability from the motorist to the manufacturers and operators of the technology.

These guidelines address thorny and complicated dilemmas, and in some instances raise more questions than answers (such as how and when to reflect the transition of accountability). The German regulations on driverless cars will impact the entire industry, as Germany is the top automotive market in Europe, and one in every five cars worldwide carries a German brand. We will continue to monitor whether other countries follow suit.

This blog is made available by Foley & Lardner LLP (“Foley” or “the Firm”) for informational purposes only. It is not meant to convey the Firm’s legal position on behalf of any client, nor is it intended to convey specific legal advice. Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Foley & Lardner LLP, its partners, or its clients. Accordingly, do not act upon this information without seeking counsel from a licensed attorney. This blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Communicating with Foley through this website by email, blog post, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship for any legal matter. Therefore, any communication or material you transmit to Foley through this blog, whether by email, blog post or any other manner, will not be treated as confidential or proprietary. The information on this blog is published “AS IS” and is not guaranteed to be complete, accurate, and or up-to-date. Foley makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the operation or content of the site. Foley expressly disclaims all other guarantees, warranties, conditions and representations of any kind, either express or implied, whether arising under any statute, law, commercial use or otherwise, including implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Foley or any of its partners, officers, employees, agents or affiliates be liable, directly or indirectly, under any theory of law (contract, tort, negligence or otherwise), to you or anyone else, for any claims, losses or damages, direct, indirect special, incidental, punitive or consequential, resulting from or occasioned by the creation, use of or reliance on this site (including information and other content) or any third party websites or the information, resources or material accessed through any such websites. In some jurisdictions, the contents of this blog may be considered Attorney Advertising. If applicable, please note that prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Photographs are for dramatization purposes only and may include models. Likenesses do not necessarily imply current client, partnership or employee status.

Related Services