Driverless Cars: An accident waiting to happen
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Driverless Cars: An accident waiting to happen


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Driverless vehicles are being developed (Finkel, 2018). Indeed, they exist now, and are being trialled in some parts of the world under controlled conditions, but they are not yet released for the general public to consume (McKinnon, 2017).

Driverless vehicles are not actually 'driverless'. There is a driver on-board, but it is a computer system which reduces to being an algorithm defining how the vehicle is to respond to all of the anticipated scenarios that could be presented to it while being operated.

Such computer systems will improve with time, and will likely improve from their own experience(s) through the application of Artificial Intelligence (O'Neill, 2017).

In optimistic views of the future things are anticipated to 'go well', with all of the vehicles on a road-way enabled to communicate, interact and coordinate with one another. However, there will be cases where things do not go according to the desired plan.

Consider a driverless car, under computer control, presented with the anticipation of a head-on collision with an oncoming vehicle that has crossed to the wrong side of the road. Indeed, the on-coming vehicle is a large fully laden truck that is speeding and it does not contain any form of computer based operation system on board. It is controlled by a human driver whom we know nothing about.

The driverless car, with its on-board computer system will need to make a 'decision' on how to respond. It is likely that automatic responses to execute will include:

  • sound an audio alarm to alert the car's occupants of the anticipated collision
  • flash headlights to alert the on-coming vehicle of the anticipated collision
  • apply the brakes to reduce speed as much as possible before collision, and
  • deploy air bags just prior to collision in preparation to protect the cars' occupants.

The driverless car also has the capacity to respond with evasive action to avoid the anticipated collision with the on-coming truck. For our purposes consider the following two alternatives. But…there is ONLY these two alternatives.

The first option is to 'accept' the head-on collision with the large, heavily laden and speeding truck. The occupants of the car will likely all be severely injured, possibly killed. We may assume that no else, other than the truck driver, is at risk of harm.

The second option is for the driverless car to divert off to the verge of the road and thus avoid the collision with the truck, but in doing so, to result in a collision with a group of pedestrians who are patiently standing at the side of the road waiting to cross safely. While the occupants of the car would be traumatised by such an event it is likely that all would be well enough to walk away from the accident. The pedestrians, however, will likely all be severely injured, possibly killed.

In this context the decision to accept the head-on collision with the truck, or to divert and collide with the pedestrians is not an 'arbitrary' accident, but a programed algorithm prepared in advance and inbuilt into the computer system.

In this scenario, how do you think the computer system should be programmed to respond to select between these two options? Does the driverless car need to protect the occupants of the car as a 'first principle' or should it be programed to provide public safety as a higher priority?

Should this scenario take into account whether the group of pedestrians are elderly vagrants (homeless people), or a group of children on their way to school?

How does this scenario comment on the practical consequences of the development of driverless cars and the ethics of their usage?

And…how does “wealth” possibly come into consideration, if at all? Driverless cars will likely be purchased by people who have disposable income, while vagrants do not have access to such wealth.

Note 1: You do not need to answer all of the questions presented. You may focus your response on particular components of this scenario.

Note 2:  Some references are provided below that may assist your research. You must include at least two references that are not listed below that you have identified yourself.


There are various views on the development of driverless cars in context to whether these should be brought into the real word for running on the roads or not. Some companies are developing the driverless vehicles and on the primary basis with the objective that these cars will improve the road safety and quality of the ride. The main questions to be answered here in this context is that, whether they are actually safer and a more convenient mode of transport or they will somewhat further lower down the safety index in the society. The machines in the driverless cars are computer programmed by algorithms, which in a situation of an unavoidable accident will hurt the fewest people, but ethically it is wrong, as none should be harmed (ABC, 2018).


 The cars when delivering goods from one place to other are often delayed due to natural human behaviour; such situations can be avoided through the use of driverless cars. This is due to the basic two reasons; no driver will get tired, and the natural human errors could also be avoided. Therefore, for the timely deliveries, commercially these vehicles are viable and convenient (Thewest, 2017). The driverless cars can be of more use if all the vehicles running on the roads are equipped with the technology as then the two cars in a critical situation would be in a position to interact technically and decide on what would be the best action in a case of emergency. If so done then almost 1.2 million lives can be saved which are killed on the roads due to accidents in a year (Bloomberg, 2018). The driverless or the automated cars can be connected, and there can be a change where all the vehicles are interconnected. This all would involve a huge cost of setting up a driverless car in itself as it is developed with high skilled technologies. These cars can be quite beneficial for the disabled people, but again the expenses incurred on such technology is too high (Alphr, 2018). The driverless or automated cars are one of the most sought-after futuristic developments and may result in a well-oriented environment which would lead to technological advancement in the society. There need to be taken some consideration before engaging this technology, such as, getting all the cars driven by humans to have a system which could be able to grasp the transmitted signal from an automated vehicle. This would result in taking the best decisions in case of emergencies, such as two cars colliding with each other. There must also be certain systems put in place that could alarm the pedestrians and take some safety measures for them as well, so that they are safeguarded in case of an accident. The technology is advancing, but the prices paid for adoption are also too high to be borne by everyone. The technology should only be brought into the scheme of things only when it can be used everyone in the society conveniently. On the basis of overall discussion, it can be remarked that driverless cars can be used on the roads, however on the part of ethics, there must be ensured 100% safety aspects in order to determine the life safety of the drivers as well as the pedestrians on the roadsides.  

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