Driverless cars forcing government regulators to deal with ethical dilemma

A Google self-driving car goes on a test drive near the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. AP Photo/Eric Risberg

OTTAWA – A Canadian expert on the ethics of engineering says governments need to play a greater role in the programming of so-called driverless vehicles.

Carleton University professor Jason Millar says automakers lack the expertise needed to answer questions such as how an autonomous car, truck or bus should swerve to avoid an accident.

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Last month’s federal budget included $7.3 million over two years to improve motor vehicle safety, with part of that amount going toward developing regulations for automated vehicles.

Advocates for the country’s high-tech and automotive sectors have urged Ottawa to tread lightly as it moves to create new rules for the autonomous vehicle industry.

But Millar, an engineer who teaches philosophy, says regulators need to come to grips with the complicated ethical and political questions that will emerge as the vehicles start rolling onto roadways.

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Although many of the questions remain theoretical, they became more real in February when an autonomous car being tested by Google in California was partly blamed for causing an accident with a bus.

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