Ethical dilemma of self-driven cars

Ethical dilemma of self-driven cars

An ethical dilemma is a conundrum situation that the drivers face while driving a vehicle. When a driver decides to apply the sudden brake to avoid an accident, he fronts an ethical dilemma. He has two options; he can either save the obstacle or the passengers sitting inside the car. Choosing either of the two options will have an undesirable effect. 

Ethical dilemma – Definitions

A dilemma is a situation where an individual has to make a decision. We often face circumstances in which we have two or more choices to make. Often the choices are unethical or undesirable on the part of an individual. But we have to choose one. Philosophy has many fields of study. One of the fields of study of philosophy is ethics.

Ethics, on the other hand, is a value judgment. In other words, being ethical means being efficient for both; the individual and society. Ethical behavior tends to have a positive outcome in the long run. When a decision-making problem has a set of undesirable alternatives, then the dilemma faced by an individual is known as an ethical dilemma. Situational conflicts often lead to actions subjected to ethical dilemmas.

The solutions to ethical dilemmas are challenging and critical for everyone. The analysis of such actions should be meticulous. Many a time, it is easy to refute an alternative logically. Most of the time, action has to be taken based on lower undesirability compared to the other. 

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Dilemma of self-driven cars

Ethical dilemma of driving

Ethical dilemmas are often faced by drivers driving a vehicle. When a driver decides to apply the sudden brake to avoid an accident, he faces an ethical dilemma. He has two options, he can either save the obstacle or can save the passengers sitting inside the car. Choosing either of the two options will have an undesirable effect.  This extremely critical situation needs to be dealt with in such a way that it leads to minimum loss. It is often argued that a full-fledged introduction of self-driven cars can be a possible option to deal with such kind of dreadful situation. It can also be said that ethical dilemma leads to conflict between alternatives. Some ethical values will be sacrificed and compromised no matter how much we try to avoid. A decision is made after analyzing the consequences of the choices made.


The concept of self-driven cars backs to 1977. Self-driven cars are also known as Robocars or autonomous cars. The credit of the innovative concept goes to Japan. With many specifications and limitations, the semi-automated car was developed, in the year 1977 by Japan. A self-driven car moves on the street with little or no human effort. The sensors present in the car enable it to move by sensing the environment.

The driverless car uses cameras, artificial intelligence, radar, and much other software to travel from one place to another. When an obstacle comes in the pathway of the Robocar, it senses it and acts as it is programmed. Many companies have been successful, and many are on the verge of being successful in testing driverless cars. The companies are developing and testing the Robocars. Such as Tesla, Volkswagen, Volvo, Audi, Ford, Google, etc. Toyota Prius and Audi TT are the self-driven cars of Google that were tested for over 140,000 miles on the streets of California. The self-driven car of Google, called the Waymo, uses light detection and ranging technology (LIDAR), cameras, and sensors. Some of the basic features of driverless cars are hand-free steering, ACC feature to maintain a safe distance from the car in front, lane-centering steering.

Merits & Demerits

There are many positive and negative sides the driverless cars. To count a few positives, it can be said that the usage of self-driven cars reduces accidents due to reckless driving, drunk driving, congestion-free driving, etc. On the negative side, self-driven cars are more vulnerable to mechanical and technical issues as the software of these cars can be hacked. Some other challenges include detecting innumerable obstacles on the road, tunnels, and bridges that are parts of a complex network system.

The Ethical dilemma

Ethical dilemmas are associated with self-driven cars. Self-driven cars often face false detection problems i.e. they are sometimes unable to correctly detect the presence of a person, animal, or any other obstacle. Thus it leads to severe accidents. In some instances, the driverless car faces a choice between hitting one person and hitting five persons. The question of concern is how autonomous vehicles should be programmed to avoid ethical dilemmas. To understand this, scientists launched an online survey that included 40 million people. Volunteers were asked to judge various fatal situations involving driverless cars. They had to decide which lives should be spared by the self-driven car.

It took more than 18 months to collect data through the survey. Several ethical preferences were now clear to the scientists. They were backed with valid reasons.

Differences in opinions were evident in the survey results. Some variations had their origin in their culture. People from Latin America and France favored saving the lives of women, children, and sportsperson. Other developed countries preferred saving the lives of people who followed the traffic rules compared to those who disobeyed them.

Brief case study

The scientists believed that self-driven cars were of utmost importance for society as it minimizes the risk associated with driving. The researchers also agreed that self-driven cars would face this kind of ethical dilemma once in a while. But at the same time, they believe that disasters caused by self-driven cannot be avoided but can be minimized and redistributed. It’s always better to harm few people than a large number of people. Programing a robocar to handle ethical dilemmas is very challenging.

Some more example of ethical dilemma

Another example of an ethical dilemma can be when both a person and an animal are in the pathway. Life of both is equally precious. But when it comes to saving the life of one, then the ethical choice should be to save the human.

The real-time decisions of robotic cars are software-driven. They can easily detect the environment and will not take a second to decide regarding the loss that will impact the nation on the minimal side. They can scan the environment, perform the calculations in a fraction of a second, and save the programmed subject.

Earlier, Robocars were subject to working on highways or in areas with fewer people. Hence it was not challenging for them. But currently, the plan to launch driverless cars on a busy road with uncountable obstacles has consequences. The solutions to ethical dilemma highlights on the fact that moral decisions cannot be universal.

Conclusion: Ethical dilemma

After analyzing the effects of a self-driven car, we can conclude that they are crucial for development. An economy grows because of the interaction between the resources available in the economy, namely land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship. The significance of the eco-system balance lies in human resources. They are subject to life hazards and health risks. Reckless driving attributes to the peril too.

A country always tries to minimize the loss of human life by taking several steps in advance. Steps that a government takes to minimize the loss of human life are of several types. Some are extremely strict. Losses can also be avoided by making and using innovative techniques. Fatalities caused by reckless driving can be avoided by the usage of new technology of self-driving cars. These cars do not need any physical existence of a driver. They are self-automated and programmed in such a way that they can avoid the losses caused by reckless driving and drunk driving. This invention also solves the problem of people who do not know to drive.

Humans have to pay a cost for every modern invention. In the case of self-driven cars, the cost paid is in the form of the ethical dilemma.


Vinie Srivastava
Vinie Srivastava

 Ms. Vinie is a Postgraduate in Economics and is a B.ed degree holder. Currently, she is working as a research associate and has 3 years of expertise in teaching. 

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