Germany clarifies ethics for self-driving cars: Treat kids and adults as equals

Transport Minister Dobrindt in a Google Self-Driving Car

After opening a self-driving car highway test track last year, German federal transport minister Dobrindt announced today that he created a so called ethics commission to advise on a legal framework for self driving cars.  The Commission is to be headed by former Federal Constitutional Court judge Udo di Fabio and will start work later this month, according to the German weekly “Wirtschaftswoche”.

The goal is a legal framework how cars which are controlled by computer must behave in dangerous situations. Programmers can then use this framework as orientation.

According to the interview, a few key decisions are already made:

  1. “It is clear that property damage takes always precedence of personal injury.”

  2. “There must be no classification of people, for example, on the size, age and the like.”

  3. “If something happens, the manufacturer is liable”

At the same time, the Minister announced that a formal law for automated driving  is upcoming. It will regulate the responsibilities in case of damage. “We equal the computer with a human driver” Dobrindt said. It is therefore ok for the human driver to take his hand off the steering wheel while the computer is in control, and, for example, read a book while driving. But on the other hand, the human driver can not sleep. The law will probably require a “Grundaufmerksamkeit” (basic awareness) that allows the driver to take over if prompted by system. A time frame of 10 seconds has been suggested for that by the car industry.

A black box in the car will store the driving situation in the event of an accident. It will be used to decide who was in control, human or computer, if an accident occurred.

Edit: Clarified “Grundaufmerksamkeit”