As consumers we buy products based on our core values. We look out for and avoid products that are tested on animals or corporations who abuse the rights of their workers. We want to buy in a way that meets with our ethics and morals. But what will the future look like with self-driving cars?
Recently Google, who would normally be known for speed and efficiency, were in the news because their autonomous vehicle was stopped by police in California for going too slowly. The ‘driver’ of the vehicle wasn’t fined, as it turns out no laws were broken. The car came to the attention of police because of the tailback it had caused by sticking to its top speed of 25mph in a 35mph zone.
I wondered, in law, who is responsible for the vehicle. In the UK, the responsibility is for the person ‘in control’ of the vehicle. ‘In control’ however in this case it is not clearly defined. The definition of a driver is also not defined. Case law tells us that if you exercise control of the vehicle, then you are the driver. For example, if you are able to control the steering wheel, with the engine off and being towed, you are the driver. Also, you can be considered to be in control of the vehicle (and therefore the driver), if you are, fast asleep, behind the steering wheel with the engine off and the keys in your pocket. (Keep this in mind if you are having a drink this festive season)!
Imagine this: You are driving your car along the road, a driver coming toward you in the opposite direction, loses control. In a split second you must decide what to do allow a head on collision, with the likely outcome of serious injury or loss of life to both yourself and the oncoming driver, or to avoid the oncoming car by driving into a group of pedestrians waiting at a bus stop. In the second option you will almost certainly kill or seriously injure the pedestrians but only suffer a very minor injury to yourself.
In the future the self-driving car will decide this for you, based on a complicated set of algorithms that would be biased towards either protecting the occupants of the autonomous vehicle first or pedestrians first. The manufacturers will have to decide on this.
Buy a BMW, “We will protect you.”
Buy a Mercedes, “We protect the world around you.”

I appreciate that there will be many people who will say that the autonomous vehicle is less likely to crash because it can analyse information and make decisions much faster than any human could. But let’s be realistic here, there will always be situations where they will crash and people will get hurt.

The future could really be about me or you having to make purchasing decisions with a new ethical angle to consider.

Until next time.