Autonomous mobility 1, 2017

Ethics Commission: Automated and Connected Driving



Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure


Safety, Responsibility, Precaution, Liability, Data ownership, Accountability


The Ethics Commission is a body of experts from the fields of philosophy, jurisprudence, social sciences, technology impact assessment, the automotive industry and software development. They were commissioned in 2016 by the Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure to develop guidelines for the application of automated vehicles.
They proposed the following 20 principles:

  1. Automation must ultimately serve the “safety of all road users.” This guideline might never breach the legal principle of personal autonomy. The individual must always enjoy their full freedom of action, for which they are responsible.

  2. No “utilitarian consideration” shall overwrite the protection of individuals. This entails that the only goal of automation is to decrease harm in human driving until it is completely eradicated. The method for this should be the prohibition of issuing of licenses as long as the particular technology does not justifiably reduce harm.

  3. The public sector should be responsible for guaranteeing safety by deciding over licenses and continuous monitoring.

  4. In order to uphold personal responsibility and the possibility for personal development, regulatory policies should promote the “free development and the protection of individuals”, which must be balanced against the freedom and safety of others.

  5. Automated and connected technology should prevent accidents with the aim of creating technology that could avoid all-in-all the emergence of such situations. To solve possible “dilemma situations, the entire spectrum of technological options” is allowed to be applied.

  6. It can be “socially and ethically mandated” to introduce more highly automated driving systems to mitigate the potential for damage. However, it is “ethically questionable” to legally prescribe the use of fully automated transport systems, “if it entails submission to technological imperatives.”

  7. In hazardous situations, human lives may always enjoy utter priority. Damages to animals and property are accepted.

  8. “Genuinely dilemmatic decisions” cannot be standardized, complex, intuitive assessment must lie in the driver and in his/her moral capacity. The establishment of an independent advisory agency might be useful to assess general patterns of culpability stemming from the experiences of automated driving.

  9. There are no acceptable ways of discrimination in an accident and “it is also prohibited to offset victims against one another.”

  10. When it comes to automated and connected driving systems, responsibility and culpability shift completely to the manufacturers and operators.

  11. “Liability for damage caused by activated automated driving systems is governed by the same principles as in other product liability”

  12. The general public has a right to be informed about new technologies and their deployment.

  13. The complete connectivity and central control of motor vehicles of digital transport infrastructure are ethically questionable and should be avoided. However, only if it can only lead to “total surveillance of road users and manipulation of vehicle control.”

  14. Automated driving should not harm people’s confidence in road transport, otherwise, it is not justifiable.

  15. The vehicle keepers and users may alone, voluntarily decide about the usage and handing over of their data.

  16. To ensure accountability, it must always be clear, who drives: the machine or the human. In the case of non-driverless systems, the human-machine interface must be designed in a way that it is always obvious, who has the responsibility for control.

  17. An “abrupt handover of control” must always be possible and this should serve as a basic principle for design.

  18. “Self-learning systems must not be deployed unless they meet the safety requirements regarding functions relevant to vehicle control and do not undermine the rules established here”

  19. In emergency situations, the vehicle must autonomously, i.e. without human assistance, enter into a “safe condition”.

  20. The proper use of automated systems should form part of people’s general digital education.

The Commission also provided a detailed analysis of a series of unresolved issues with regard to automated driving.

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