Driverless car accidents

Who would you want your car to kill? The driverless car is in a situation where it can either drive into a tree, harming the occupants, or into a crowd of people. Which should it choose?

Mercedes Benz announced last month that its cars would prioritise passenger safety, but then reversed course. They have never read Kant- from a selfish point of view, I would prefer that a car with me as a passenger preferred passengers, with me as a bystander preferred bystanders. In a survey, most people agreed that cars which impartially minimised casualties were more ethical, but would be frightened of such cars.

If the passengers’ safety is prioritised over the bystanders’, where would it end? Would the car prioritise the passengers’ convenience, going faster but risking bystander safety? A driverless car did not take enough risk. It went much slower in heavy traffic, because it left a safe distance between itself and the vehicle ahead, and vehicles behind continually passed it, pulling into that gap. That could only be resolved if every car was driverless, all communicating across a web.

If car buyers preferred cars that risked bystanders, law could correct that: a passenger could still be liable for harm caused by a car in their control, even criminally liable. Or bystanders could, the dystopic mob pulling passengers from the car and lynching them. Cars could not be allowed to prefer their occupants.

Here’s The Moral Machine, where you can submit your opinions to MIT, or design ethical dilemmas for others. Citylab questions how they should affect urban design and might affect pedestrian behaviour: people should not discourteously cross the road in front of a car, but don’t deserve to die for it, so would pedestrians become jerks? Would children play in the street? Would urban planners create even more fast roads banning pedestrians entirely? Would cities ban cars, in favour of public transport?

Slate goes deeply into optimising the interests of the individual against those of the group. If your car could take you to your city centre office, then go and park in the cheapest space possible- perhaps outside the city- should law intervene to prevent passengerless journeys? Might the car operate as a taxi during the day, before coming back for you at the end of your shift? Carmakers argue that optimal spacing between cars could reduce the need for roads or parking space, in expensive city land, but when driving gets easier, people drive more. This is called “induced demand”.

People can make decisions together, and legislate for optimal outcomes. Everyone would benefit. There is no “tragedy of the Commons” when there are well thought out rules governing the commons, only when individuals pursue their own interests without regard to those of others.

New York Times, Whose life should your car save?

Compassion III

I know that when another’s compassion touches me, it can change my life, letting me see things in a new way, giving me hope and new energy to act as I could not before. I know that my compassion can warm others, and when it does it delights me.

I know that compassion, when not life-changing, can change my day: when another driver lets me pull out, I find myself behaving more courteously to others, and imagine a chain reaction of courtesy spreading across the city’s roads. When tempted to react to another driver’s discourtesy, compassion saves me from that: he is rushing, and perhaps his wife’s waters have broken; he is slow, and does not know where he is, and needs to take care to find the way.

I know that these small experiences and understandings of a moment’s compassion can help me give and receive compassion better. I take them into my heart, they warm me and help me value myself. I learn from them, and improve my practice, and see it benefits me.

I know that when I work with another compassion between us oils the wheels so that we work together more happily and more productively.

I know that when I behave altruistically, I gain joy.

I know that I feel compassion when I hear of people suffering on another continent, then may feel powerless. It is too much. There is nothing I can do, so I must take comfort from the acts I can perform in my own community. And I know that so many of us feel that same compassion, and that some blessed individuals can channel and direct this compassion so that it changes others’ lives: with that leadership we can act together and improve the conditions of clothing workers in Bangladesh or chickens laying eggs in barns.

I know that every thought or act of compassion, however small, has value for giver and receiver.

I know that people are naturally compassionate. We have mirror neurons in our brains which make us feel what another feels. I know that this is a great gift, because it binds us together and helps us to work together and when we are together we are so powerful.

I know that perfect love drives out all fear. I know God Who is Love.

I am delighted to be part of 1000 voices speak for compassion. This page introduces it. Here is the link to all the posts. Join us!


Driving to Exeter, I would take the motorway round Birmingham. Paul, dealing with the navigation, thrusts five pages of instructions from the internet at me. He has not printed out any maps. Do you have a road atlas? Er, no, it is in the other car. We could have turned around then, half a mile from home, and got my satnav, but, well, we were on our way. He does not like satnavs.

He wants to go via Oxford. He knows the first fifteen miles. I need to sleep on the car journey: not very sociable, but, well. Where now? We go North on the motorway, I say. I am surprised he is driving round the roundabout again. I told you, That way! I have a look through the five pages. It goes through back streets of Chichester, and I have no idea where that is. Paul, do you want to see Chichester? Not particularly. Go down the A34 to Newbury, and use the motorway. So we do.

In Exeter, well, possibly I misinterpret one instruction, possibly a signpost has been changed, but we miss one and the rest become useless. Without a map, I do not know where Prince of Wales Road is, it could be in any direction, and a hundred yards or a mile. I could lambast and excoriate him. It is his stupid fault, not printing out a map is ineffably stupid, what did he imagine would happen? Actually I go quiet. I want to be constructive, and get where we want to go, but have little idea how. I am getting anxious. He does not get angry either, saying I should have interpreted the instructions better: that would not be a strong argument, and I have never seen him angry. So we drive around, and we ask people, and we go off up a hill into the Devon countryside before he admits this is not the right way. Then he sees a road sign for the University. I could not have read that from here, I say, and he explains how long sight is a problem rather than a good thing.

I had not known we cannot book in until 6pm. I had quite fancied wandering in the town, but have lost my appetite for that. He buys me a drink. He is nice that way. It is hard to get angry with him. I had never worked out whether his self-deprecation, about how I, his wife’s family, just about everyone is cleverer than he is, is an affectation, or a belief which allows him to amble along, not achieving anything much. He is 57. When he joined CAB, someone proposed he did a management course, but he thought, at 38, he was too old for that. He has not advanced since then. He has told me that story several times.

In the evening, he wanted to go out and buy a radio. He would try the supermarkets. We drive off together, and indeed find two supermarkets, and he gets a radio, and then we manage to find our way back. His “travelling hopefully” has actually worked. And when we drove home, he just took another road, seemingly at random. I suppose this shows a trust in Providence, which can be beneficial.
-Why don’t they give any roadsigns?
-Paul, this is a residential street!
We carry on up the hill, past large detached properties, until we get out into the Devon countryside. Then we go back to the town centre, and the “inner bypass”, where we find signposts to the main roads out. When we are on the motorway, I poke around in his glove compartment, and find his satnav.