Whether we see them in motorsports, popular TV shows, or notice heads turning when we see them on public roads, high performance cars are undeniably popular feats of engineering. Regarding either electric vehicles (EVs) or conventional, there is an expectation of continuously beating previous performance records. Simple mechanics dictates that “increasing performance” – higher top speed, faster acceleration – is inseparable from increased energy consumption. Given the current understanding of human influence towards climate change and our supposed national commitment to helping1, perhaps it is irresponsible to continue allowing these machines to grace our roads. Should a ban be imposed on road legal performance cars?
Kantian and Virtue Ethics Perspectives
Performance car manufacturers aim to develop cutting edge technologies to challenge their competitors. The pursuit for progress significantly influences the in-work duty ethics established by each car manufacturer, which are to be followed by anyone involved in the process (i.e. employees). These norms exist to ensure their success in a highly demanding market. Using Kantian Theory, irrespective of the consequences, the production of high-performance cars can be judged as morally right since the actions comply with the company and industry norms1.
Cars could be seen to reflect their owner’s virtue ethics because vehicles are a modern extension of identity. Progression and elegance are perhaps virtues that owners of such vehicles subscribe to and therefore seek premium car models that have increased speed and power relative to previous models. However, the public’s perception of good or virtuous qualities change; marketing attempts to control the virtue ethics of the public so that they seek certain personal traits through their vehicles. Promoting performance cars as a symbol of elegance without mentioning environmental impact prevents accountability from becoming a major societal virtue. Thus, the public and industry can feel morally just and avoid the guilt associated with the overall increase in energy consumption.
It is assumed that the government would enforce the ban, so it is important to consider the norms that must be upheld. A ban would directly contravene a social norm of the public; their right to freedom of choice. While this argument may lead to the conclusion that a ban is unethical, the Utilitarian ethical framework could disagree.
Utilitarian and Care Ethics Perspectives
The Utilitarian analysis weighs up good versus harm resulting from banning performance cars1.The predicted harm of the ban is frustration, devaluation of assets, and slowing technological development. Frustration would be widespread; car enthusiasts would be angry that they couldn’t drive a fun car on a day to day basis, other members of the public may feel angry due to infringement of freedom. Many UK car owners would have their property devalued and UK automotive (both OEMs and aftermarket) companies would lose business. Regarding technology, Nikola Tesla famously stated: “the development of man is vitally dependent on invention” and went as far as to describe invention as our “ultimate purpose”. Speed and power are simple and obvious metrics of progression that a ban would restrain in the automotive world; perhaps fundamentally harming mankind’s self-esteem. Furthermore, the development of performance cars has facilitated improvements in vehicle safety features across the automotive sector. Mercedes’ Electronic Stability Control (ESC) inspired an EU mandate for this feature on all new cars4,5, motivated by studies that showed ESC reduced crash fatalities by 25%.
The predicted good of the ban is a reduction in: environmental damage, irresponsible driving and class division. Removing performance cars will certainly result in a lower average energy consumption per road user, reducing harmful emissions that damage the environment. This has the potential to affect not just humanity, but every organism on Earth1. Irresponsible driving is ultimately due to the driver and not the vehicle, but as roughly a quarter of 2016 road fatalities were speed related7, it is not unreasonable to suggest that reducing access to cars that can easily break the speed limit could help increase public safety for all road users. Owning a powerful vehicle that can easily exceed 100 mph seems nonsensical since the maximum legal speed is 70mph and, due to worsening congestion, the average 2017-2018 English A road speed is only 24.9 mph8. Moreover, the number of people at risk at any instant is increasing because the UK’s roads are busier than ever9. Lastly, luxury cars can highlight financial position or status in society, which could be considered detrimental; do the rich need another way of outperforming the poor?
Care ethics places ethical judgement on whether decisions made in a relationship are empathetic. Figure 1 shows the functional government-public relationship; the public understand that government needs people to vote and obey, which by majority the people do. The government know that people need economic and social security, so it aims to provide. By nature, business is competitive, not empathetic. This means that from a care ethics standpoint, businesses act unethically, hence the lack of reciprocity in figure 1 from manufacturers to other parties. It makes little sense to talk about the environment having empathy towards other parties; it just provides resources. However, there is value in considering the empathy shown towards it. The public do not actively consider the environment in their normal lifestyle choices, since it is too inconvenient. Governments do show some empathy for the environment, hence the existence of the department for the environment10. A means by which the government could show more empathy would be to enforce a rule that reduces the environmental impact of road users. Therefore, a performance car ban can be somewhat justified using care ethics. Nevertheless, if a government were to impose a ban, a fully empathetic situation is not achieved because empathy towards manufacturers would cease.
Based on the above discussion, we conclude that a ban should be enforced on performance cars.
- Van de Poel, Ibo, and Lamber Royakkers. Ethics, technology, and engineering: An introduction. (John Wiley & Son, 2011).
- Tesla, Nikola. My inventions: The autobiography of Nikola Tesla. (The Philovox, 2007).
- Frampton, R. and P. Thomas (2007) Effectiveness of Electronic Stability Control Systems in Great Britain, Report prepared for the Department for Transport, VSRC, Loughborough, March 2007.