Shall self – driving cars fully take over a human – controlled vehicle?

Group 6


Self-driving cars, also known as driverless cars, can travel to desired destinations without human input by utilising cameras, sensors, and artificial intelligence. Google has started the self-driving car project secretly since 2009 [1] and a prototype was built in a few years completing 300,000 miles under computer control. Recently, the UK government started considering self-driving cars implementation and the legislation will complete in early 2021 with a speed limit of 70 mph [2]. Since self-driving cars are becoming a new trend, the legality of whether it shall completely take over a human controlled vehicle will be discussed below.

The benefits of self – driving cars

Risk reduction

Drunk driving is one of the leading causes of many fatal traffic accidents. Research [3] shows that 666 people were killed, and 3,551 people were seriously injured by drunk driving each year in the UK. With self-driving technology, the number of drink driving-related accidents is likely to be drastically reduced. Self-driving cars could reduce traffic accidents caused by drunk drivers, elderly drivers or people with low vision. Regarding duty ethics, where the action is correct when it agrees with the moral principle, self-driving is correct as it reduces the number of casualties. 

Long-term economic benefit

The long – term transportation expenses are predicted to save up to 7 trillion USD by 2050 [4] from reducing medical expenses caused by traffic accidents and the cost of hiring drivers. New car designs will also carry more passengers with additional space from the driver seat. While full automation does the job as a driver, all passengers can do other tasks and increase productivity. Utilitarianism ethics is achieved as most people are happy with the increase in productivity and the reduced money spent. Besides, 2 million individuals with disabilities [5] will also get employed and be self – sufficient to promote self-driving technology. This aligns with duty ethics as everyone can then share equal rights to work or do what they want.

Traffic conjunction and environmental aspect

London is the most congested city in the UK. According to research carried out by INTRIX [6] in 2019, an average time of 149 hours wasted on traffic per driver annually in London. The researchers from the University of Cambridge designed an experiment to show the difference of a stopping car between a self-driving vehicle and a human-controlled vehicle (egocentric). It shows that self-driving vehicles effectively improved the overall vehicle flow by 35% [7]. With the support of virtue ethics, self – driving cars not only maintain common virtue ethics of human activities such as reliability but also reduce the egocentric action in driving. Furthermore, self-driving cars can save fuel by 4% to 10% from an experiment by Ohio University [8]. Cars are programmed to travel simultaneously, eliminating unnecessary acceleration or braking due to unknown situations [9], which aligns with care ethics as driver – to – driver relationships are introduced. This can also achieve minimum fuel wastage. Besides, self – driving cars would be suggested to follow routes with minimum fuel consumption. Greenhouse gases emission is reduced from unnecessary idling in traffic jams. The promotion of self-driving cars agrees with duty ethics as it protects the environment.

Drawbacks and potential risks associated

Moral problem 

Considering deontological theory, it is morally wrong for AI to control human behaviour. From time to time, humans control cars and decide where to go. Habits and perception of people would be changed on what is right. Self-driving cars also offend car enthusiasts as they can no longer have fun with cars. According to a survey [10] conducted by the advocacy group Partners for Automated Vehicle Education in 2020, of 1200 adults surveyed, 48% of respondents said they would never try a driverless car, 20% think it is unsafe, 21% are unsure about it, only 20% are willing to try a completely driverless car.


Technical issues are possible to appear in extreme weather (snow or rain) where the sensors fail to detect all possible hazards. Although human errors are eliminated, errors caused by the AI are unpredictable which could cause accidents on a much larger scale that can be easily avoided by humans. In addition, paths are likely to be standardised to optimise time and fuel consumption. Privacy concerns would rise since communication between vehicles and a third – party server exist. Although information such as location is kept confidential, the risk of being hacked externally is still present. Consequences could be tragic if terrorists use this to their advantage. It is necessary to have a driver who is capable of manual driving in case of any emergency. 

Less job opportunities

According to a report of May 2017 from Goldman Sachs, autonomous driving technology would cut 300,000 driving jobs each year [11] including co – pilot, taxi, freight and private driver. Apart from actual drivers, autonomous cars also have a great impact on the market. The report [11] also estimated that autonomous cars would account for 20% of total car sales. It will be a big shock to the market and the corresponding jobs (e.g. product designers). Opposition from the society would rise along with the implementation of autonomous technology due to the variety of driving jobs being replaced, which is against the care ethics.

Health issue 

A large variety of advanced technologies are used in self – driving cars including remote controls, sensors, Bluetooth, Wi – Fi, GPS guidance, GPS tracking tools, powered accessories, radio and entertainment systems, etc. This increases the exposure to electromagnetic field radiation which could lead to illness such as insomnia, headaches, inner agitation, migraines, chronic exhaustion, and susceptibility to infection. [12] This violates the virtue ethics as it is harmful and irresponsible for the public health.

Initial Decision:

We agree that the benefits of self – driving cars fully take over human controlled vehicles outweigh the drawbacks of it.


[1]Glon, Ronan. “History of Self-Driving Cars Milestones.” Digital Trends. Digital Trends, July 31, 2020.

[2] Kilpatrick, Richard. “Autonomous Driving Set to Become Legal in the UK.” CAR Magazine. Bauer Media, August 20, 2020.

[3] “Drink Driving Statistics UK.” UK – Accessed March 23, 2021.

[4] Lanctot, Roger. “Accelerating the Future: The Economic Impact of the Emerging Passenger Economy.” Strategy Analytics, June 2017.

[5] Claypool, Bin-Nun, and Gerlach. “Self-Driving Cars: The Impact on People with Disabilities.” Ruderman Family Foundation, October 3, 2017.

[6] Reed, Trevor. “INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard: Congestion Cost UK Economy £6.9 Billion in 2019.” Inrix, February 2019.

[7] ITV News. “Driverless Cars Could Help Reduce Traffic Problems, Study Finds.” ITV News. ITV News, May 20, 2019.

[8] Thales, 7 benefits of autonomous cars. Thales, July 21, 2017.

[9] Bell, Lyndon. “10 Benefits of Self-Driving Cars.” Accessed March 23, 2021.

[10] Ira, Boudway. Bloomberg, May 19, 2020.

[11] Balakrishnan, Anita. “Self-Driving Cars Could Cost America’s Professional Drivers up to 25,000 Jobs a Month, Goldman Sachs Says.” CNBC. CNBC, May 22, 2017. [12] “Top 3 Possible Dangers Of Self-Driving Cars”. 2021. VEST | Radiation Blocking Products For Everyday Use.

2 thoughts on “Shall self – driving cars fully take over a human – controlled vehicle?

  1. The topic of ‘Driverless cars’ has been covered a number of times over the years. One reason being that it’s clear engineering problem and there is a clear dilemma too. You’ve added a fresh perspective – thanks.

    Opening statement. The problem is clearly stated. There is a clear dilemma.

    In the arguments for, there is an excellent use of ethical theories. Well done!

    In the arguments against, there is an acceptable use of ethical theories. Focus on improving this for Assignment Two. In some cases, the theory just needs to be stated. For example, you say: “Self-driving cars also offend car enthusiasts as they can no longer have fun with cars.” – this could be supported by deontology and, perhaps, utilitarianism.
    As an aside, you note that “the risk of being hacked externally is still present. Consequences could be tragic if terrorists use this to their advantage.” Terrorists have used vehicles to perform attacks too.

    Advice for Assignment Two: With the argument against, state the ethical support more.
    It should be straight-forward to identify the stakeholders.
    In terms of Options for Action, all options are worth considering, although I think a case could be made for a win-win.

    Please try and get more comments. This particular topic should resonate with the ‘typical’ mechanical engineer. (For ‘typical’ let’s use the word ‘exceptional’ instead. 😊 )
    I’m perfectly OK with you striking deals – whereby you comment on other articles and they comment on yours.

  2. Self-driving car is a topic that discussed a lot recently with the emerging AI technology. Like you said in the article, there’s a risk of hacker or terrorists’ attack which worried me but I feel like self-driving car is a going to be fully implemented sooner or later due to its economic benefits and current social trend. I don’t think job displace will be a major problem because self-driving car also create new job as well. In the future, drivers can let their self-driving car out on the road and earn money for them.
    Personally, I hate long distance drive and reckless driver. Therefore, I am fully support for self – driving cars fully take over human controlled vehicles ! Also, Elon Musk is confident about level 5 vehicle autonomy(fully automation) complete this year.

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