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Germany announces ethical guidelines for automated driving


On 20 June, the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure presented the final report of an ethics commission on guidelines on automated driving. An English-language summary is now available as well. The commission was created in September 2016. Under the chairmanship of a former constitutional judge, the politically independent body united philosophers, social scientists, lawyers, computer scientists and representatives of the automotive industry. In five working groups, it set out to develop the ethical guidelines for connected and automated driving.

For instance, the report concludes that “the protection of individuals takes precedence over all other utilitarian considerations. The objective is to reduce the level of harm until it is completely prevented. The licensing
of automated systems is not justifiable unless it promises to produce at least a diminution in harm compared with human driving.” It also states that “The public sector is responsible for guaranteeing the safety of the automated and connected systems introduced and licensed in the public street environment. Driving systems thus need official licensing and monitoring. The guiding principle is the avoidance of accidents.”

Based on these initial considerations, the report argues that “In hazardous situations that prove to be unavoidable, despite all technological precautions being taken, the protection of human life enjoys top priority in a balancing of legally protected interests. Thus, within the constraints of what is technologically feasible, the systems must be programmed to accept damage to animals or property in a conflict if this means that personal injury can be prevented.”

In line with existing German jurisprudence, the report further concludes that “In the event of unavoidable accident situations, any distinction based on personal features (age, gender, physical or mental constitution) is strictly prohibited. It is also prohibited to offset victims against one another.” The German report is the first one of its kind in Europe to explore these thoughts further.



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