Autonomous cars: Drivers want to protect their own lives.

Autonomous cars can behave morally. However, most people would buy a car that would put their own lives ahead of the lives of others.

In case of emergency, should an autonomous car sacrifice the driver instead of running into a crowd? Photo: fotolia rrf

In case of emergency, should an autonomous car sacrifice the driver instead of running into a crowd? Photo: fotolia rrf

An autonomous car hurtles towards a crowd of people. Either it slams straight into it and kills numerous passers-by. Or it evades and crashes into an obstacle killing all car passengers. How should the technique decide? Researchers of the University of Toulouse, the Boston Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California in a survey have investigated this and other questions with just under 2,000 test subjects. Roughly three-quarters of all participants would prefer to sacrifice the driver instead of the whole crowd of people. Even if kids were in the car, most of them would decide the same way.

50 per cent of the respondents prefer a car that protects their own life

Most of the test subjects chose a rational solution that keeps the number of victims as low as possible. However, a preferred moral behaviour by the community does not necessarily reflect the behaviour of individuals. When asked for their own preferences regarding autonomous cars, the result switched completely: Only 19 per cent would choose the car that assesses rationally whereas 50 per cent would prefer a car that saves their own lives under all circumstances. So even if the surveyed people agree that autonomous cars should save as much lives as possible in case of an accident, they wouldn’t buy such a car themselves.

Such ethical questions are of great relevance even if at first sight they seem artificial. According to the researchers, in reality, autonomous cares would have to take a decision about life and death very rarely. However, the likelihood of such a scenario would grow with every new autonomous car on the road. The research team concludes that a regulation of this decision-making might be socially desirable which could lead to delay the success of autonomous cars.

Read more: Infographics: Consumers have little confidence in autonomous cars.

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