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German government adopts ethical action plan for automated driving systems

The Ethics Commission on Automated Driving at the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), which was set up by Federal Minister, Alexander Dobrindt, has presented its report on the implementation of rules for self-driving computer systems.

In the report, the body of experts, headed by Professor Udo Di Fabio, a former Federal Constitutional Court judge, has developed guidelines for the programming of automated driving systems, and the German government’s Cabinet has now adopted an action plan to implement the results. The BMVI’s ethics committee consisted of 14 scientists and experts from the fields of ethics, law and technology, which included, traffic and transport experts, legal professionals, computer scientists, engineers, philosophers, theologians, consumer protection representatives, and members of industry associations and companies.

The Committee’s report comprises a total of 20 propositions, and the key points are:

  • Automated and networked driving is ethically necessary if the systems cause fewer accidents than human drivers (positive risk assessment);
  • Damage to property must take precedence over personal injury, where in hazardous situations, the protection of human life must always have top priority;
  • In the case of unavoidable accidents, any distinction between people according to personal characteristics, such as age, gender, physical or mental constitution, is not permissible;
  • In every driving situation, it is necessary to clearly define and identify who is responsible for the driving task - the human being or the computer, and that must be documented and stored to clarify possible liability issues;
  • Drivers must always be able to decide themselves whether their vehicle data are to be forwarded and used by others (data sovereignty).

“The interaction between man and machine raises new ethical questions in the time of digitization and self-learning systems,” noted Dobrindt. “Automated and networked driving is the latest innovation in which this interaction is applied in full. The Ethics Commission at the BMVI has performed absolutely pioneering work in this field, and has developed the world’s first guidelines for automated driving. We are now implementing these guidelines, and will remain an international pioneer in Mobility 4.0.”

Prof Di Fabio commented, “The Ethics Commission on Automated and Connected Driving has developed initial guidelines for policymakers and lawmakers that will make it possible to approve automated driving systems, but that set out special requirements in terms of safety, human dignity, personal freedom of choice, and data autonomy.”

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September 1, 2017

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