Leader comment: Self-driving cars will face complex moral dilemmas

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling with a Tesla S car. Picture: PA
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling with a Tesla S car. Picture: PA
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Self-driving cars could be on the roads within four years, according to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. There is no doubt the technology could dramatically cut accident rates – as human error is a major factor in many collisions – and that people currently unable to drive would benefit from the increased mobility.

There is no doubt the technology could dramatically cut accident rates – as human error is a major factor in many collisions – and that people currently unable to drive would benefit from the increased mobility.

But, while public demand for electric cars appears strong given concerns over air pollution and climate change, the demand for driverless ones is more muted and understandably so. There are times when motorists are presented with complex moral dilemmas. After hitting a patch of ice, a driver could face a life-and-death choice between crashing into a stone wall or a group of children.

Are we ready to allow a computer to perform those kinds of calculations? Can a computer do this effectively? If a computer makes a judgment that injures a human, can they sue for damages? Criminals have proved adept at exploiting new technology, will they be able to take control of a vehicle while it is in motion? Questions remain and four years seems a short time to come up with the answers.