The Ethics of Autonomous Car Testing

In the wake of multiple fatal crashes involving Tesla's self-driving mode, ethicists suggest the need for a robust set of regulations governing the testing of AVs before more of them hit the road.

Read Time: 2 minutes

October 11, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Tesla

Tinxi / Shutterstock

Tesla, which "has been offering customers access to a 'Full Self Driving' beta software, allowing Tesla owners to effectively become guinea pigs for the company's tech" for years, "is now under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for several crashes where the Autopilot system was engaged." James McCandless reports on new research "that explores the intersection of human behavior and automated driving features in production and future vehicles."

According to Dr. Bryan Reimer, research scientist at the MIT Center for Transportation, "the push towards autonomous driving is a balancing act between what autonomous vehicles can do versus what a driver is capable of doing in conjunction with that technology. The goal is to take some of the more routine driving tasks out of the hands of the driver." Because humans, by nature, tend to become over-reliant on automation, "Reimer says that autonomous systems should be seen as a collaborative part of driving in helping drivers make moment-to-moment decisions." But drivers using Tesla's Autopilot and Full Self Driving modes "have become less attentive on average," leading to the multiple crashes seen in the last year. To Reimer, these repeated incidents raise ethical questions about the efficacy of 'self-driving' modes. "Once we understand a situation," he says, "it becomes foreseeable misuse." Reimer suggests a more cautious approach to autonomous testing and a need for "third-party validated scientific data."

"[T]he uneven nature of autonomous vehicle testing is partly down to the absence of a relevant regulatory environment." According to Reimer and Dr. Nicholas Evans, professor of philosophy at University of Massachusetts-Lowell, autonomous cars need "a regulatory body similar to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that can oversee the development of these technologies and insure that they're being safely tested and used."

The benefits of increased oversight, says Evans, "outweigh any reductions of speed in testing cycles," and "there should be more dialogue about the ethical implications of who is affected by more self-driving vehicles on the road and the unintended consequences."

Monday, October 4, 2021 in Newsweek

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Aerial view of Bend, Oregon with river and old mill district

Bend Eliminates Parking Minimums

The city is complying with an Oregon state mandate that some cities have challenged in court.

January 20, 2023 - KTVZ

Sunset view over canal and downtown Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale Cuts Water Supply to Nearby Suburb

The city claims it has no responsibility to provide water to the unincorporated Maricopa County community.

January 18, 2023 - The Washington Post

Aerial view of Ogden, Utah with Wasatch Mountains in the background

Utah Could Eliminate Parking Requirements Near Transit

A proposed state bill would bar cities from requiring parking in areas adjacent to transit stations in an effort to make housing production more affordable and encourage walking and transit use.

7 hours ago - The Salt Lake Tribune

People on bikes on crowded Rue de Rivoli in Paris in 2020

Where Pandemic Bike Improvements Won Out

While some cities are reverting back to pre-pandemic street configurations, others are taking advantage of the momentum for bike and pedestrian infrastructure to make pandemic-era projects permanent.

January 29 - Momentum Magazine

Atlanta Rail Service

Atlanta Transit Plans Stall Due to Budget Concerns

With MARTA facing a potential billion dollar shortfall, the agency says it can’t fulfill its system expansion plan.

January 29 - Urbanize Atlanta