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Autonomous vehicles in Ohio not a matter of if, but when

A handful of states have already passed laws creating a framework for the arrival of driverless cars and trucks. Ohio is not among them. But as an official in the state’s Department of Transportation noted recently, it’s not a matter of if these vehicles ply our roads, but when. The question that raises is how should we prepare?

Proponents of the self-driving movement say when it is in full flower, roads will be safer. Vehicles won’t run into each other as often as they do now, which will reduce injuries and deaths due to accidents. Many experts agree with that analysis, but they suggest that getting to that stage is far off, and they pose the question, “What will happen in the meantime?”

The moral dilemma

Perhaps one of the thorniest issues yet to overcome is a matter of morals. Here’s a hypothetical situation to cast some light on the question.

Imagine that you are on the road, hemmed in by other vehicles. In front of you is a truck. Suddenly, cargo on the truck falls off and into your path. What do you do? Plow into the cargo and risk death or swerve and risk killing yourself and others as well?

The human reaction that follows is instinctual and is nuanced by your particular character. However, in a world of autonomous vehicles, such decisions have to be anticipated and the response preprogrammed. Some argue that this moves the issue from one of reaction to one of premeditation.

Here’s another scenario to consider. If you had to choose between an autonomous vehicle programmed to save as many lives as possible in an unavoidable crash and one programmed to put your life ahead of all others, which would you select?

The transition to all autonomous vehicles is not something that will happen with the flip of a switch. Many observers say it could take decades. In the meantime, human drivers will be sharing the road with self-driving vehicles. When accidents happen, and they will, how will liability and accountability be determined?

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