‘Death Decision’ Could Halt Progress Of Driverless Cars

Thu 9th Aug 2018

A top BMW executive has claimed that driverless cars may never become a reality as they would have to “choose whether to cause death.”

Speaking at the recent Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Summit, BMW’s Ian Robertson said that there are moral questions over what a level five fully autonomous car chooses to do or what to collide with in the case of an avoidable accident. He said: said: “Imagine a scenario where the car has to decide between hitting one person or the other — to choose whether to cause this death or that death.

“What’s it going to do? Access the diary of one and ascertain they are terminally ill and so should be hit? I don’t think that situation will ever be allowed.

“If we are working towards a ‘brain off’ scenario, where perhaps we expect travellers to even sit in the back of the car and relax, then that clearly isn’t possible today, despite what some might tell you."

There are currently five stages of autonomous driving systems. Level 1 systems are currently available in some cars on the market and require the driver to remain in control of the car at all times, though acceleration and steering can be assisted by the car. There are also cars on the market with advanced Level 2 and Level 3 systems available, but Level 4, considered to be a true driverless car experience won’t be on sale until 2021 at the earliest. Level 5 cars won’t need a driver at all and possibly won’t have a steering wheel or pedals.

Many companies, including Google, are working towards Level 5 systems, however Robertson argues that government legislation is unlikely to allow the cars to go on the roads.

"In the UK, the government is encouraging autonomous testing — even if some of its fundamentals go against the Highway Code, the fabric of our laws.

“But I believe that in the long term, the regulators will step in and set boundaries about how far we can go. It might be to allow it only on motorways, as they are the most controlled environments,” he continued.