back to article Kill animals and destroy property before hurting humans, Germany tells future self-driving cars

Germany’s government has answered the car ethics question once and for all: driverless cars should prioritize the protection of human life over the destruction of animals or property. On Wednesday, the nation's Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure – a curious combination that suggests they took "information …

  1. Pete 2

    Lost in translation?

    > Ultimately, drivers will still bear responsibility if their autonomous charabanc crashes, unless it was caused by a system failure

    A system can either be autonomous, or it can have someone in control (possibly one or the other at different times). But to say that a person is responsible for an autonomous vehicle, or that a vehicle is autonomous if it has a "driver" is contradictory.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meat defeat module?

    ..driverless cars should prioritize the protection of human life, unless that life is from the International Council on Clean Transportation...

    Nein?

  3. Len Goddard

    Who

    OK, if a crash is inevitable the car cannot discriminate on race/gender/age etc. But does it prioritize its passengers?

    1. Lusty

      Re: Who

      Not sure I see a scenario for an inevitable crash with autonomous vehicles. A human would probably have to go out of their way to make that happen. Generally the computer will slow to suit conditions and then stop if anything approaching a bad situation occurs.

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Who

        That would depend very much on whether the car drives "by the book" (i.e. only at a speed for which it can stop within its sensor range) or along the lines of human drivers where it assumes the road continues beyond sight and road flow is 'normal' (which is faster and probably causes less accidents by acting in an unusual/unpredictable manner to the meatbags).

      2. Len Goddard

        Re: Who

        You are assuming all cars are autonomous and they have faultless programming. As soon as you have non-autonomous vehicles in the mix the problem of avoiding crashes magnifies enormously. As for flawless programming, well you are in an inevitable crash situation when your AI realises too late that the patch of blue sky aheah is actually the side of a light-blue truck.

        1. baseh

          Re: Who - "invisible" objects

          "your AI realises too late that the patch of blue sky aheah is actually the side of a light-blue truck."

          The Tesla accident with the white truck as with other "invisible" cars could be easily avoided by mandatory markings/GPS location, like reflective bands or rear reflectors are today (but adapted for autonomous viewing systems). This will go a looong way towards making autonomous driving easier and safer.

          Come to think of it, pedestrians should also wear visible means, something that is sadly overlooked today in the name of fashion. When I see bicycle riders and pedestrians crossing in all black clothes at night in the rain I'm asking myself if they are intentionally suicidal or simply do not care to live.

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: Who - "invisible" objects

            "When I see bicycle riders and pedestrians crossing in all black clothes at night in the rain"

            Can I just point out the irony... "When I *see*". People in suits aren't instantly invisible, I don't lose my feet because I've put black socks on...

            There is no requirement in law (or sense) for a pedestrian (or a fallen tree, or a concrete block, a landslide or a cow) to be wearing something which you might consider a convenience to you. The requirement for cyclists is that the vehicle (not the rider) shall have a red reflector to the rear, as well as a legally compliant light. Note that these can be as dim as 4 candela, and flashing, 50% cycle, at 2-4Hz. Pedal reflectors are *sometimes* mandatory (older bikes are exempt).

            Although as you have already pointed out - you can see these people dressed in black, so what's the problem... The problem is that you don't want to drive in such a manner that you can stop in the distance you can see to be clear...

            1. TitterYeNot

              Re: Who - "invisible" objects

              "There is no requirement in law for a pedestrian (or a fallen tree, or a concrete block, a landslide or a cow) to be wearing something which you might consider a convenience to you."

              True, there is no requirement in law, but you are going against guidance in the 'Rules for pedestrians' section of the Department for Transport Highway Code if you are not making an effort to make yourself visible whilst walking beside a public road. So it's not just a case of it being for vehicle users' convenience:-

              Rule 3

              Help other road users to see you. Wear or carry something light-coloured, bright or fluorescent in poor daylight conditions. When it is dark, use reflective materials (eg armbands, sashes, waistcoats, jackets, footwear), which can be seen by drivers using headlights up to three times as far away as non-reflective materials.

              1. John Robson Silver badge

                Re: Who - "invisible" objects

                TitterYeNot

                It's in there because it is purely for the convenience of motorists - as is much of that document. The UK is a pretty heavily car biased society (not quite as bad as the USA yet, but we're getting there).

                Have you checked out Rule 126:

                Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear.

                That's not - can't see that there is an obstruction - it's *can* see that there *isn't*.

                Around most towns and cities, and most major roads there is sufficient street lighting to make people visible whatever they are wearing. On minor roads the addition of your own headlights, and the fact that the pedestrian would be walking in such a way as to see you coming, change things a bit - but you should still be able to see a pedestrian from quite a distance.

                The issue is almost never one of visibility - it's one of attention but the person with the lethal weapon.

                My observation of the behaviour of a significant minority of motorists is that they treat the speed limit as a minimum speed, with anywhere up to ten miles and hour above being considered 'reasonable'. If they come across anyone doing even 'only' the speed limit they will overtake whether or not they can see far enough to complete the manoeuvre safely. They will ignore the double white lines on the road in order to do so...

                In the context of people who simply don't look down a road when they take actions behind the wheel of a car it is pure victim blaming to suggest that 'they weren't wearing stuff' when the reality is that (many) motorists just don't look - or rather that they look, but only for other motor vehicles, not for clear tarmac.

                The attention video is well worth a watch...

                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo

          2. DJO Silver badge

            Re: Who - "invisible" objects

            I see bicycle riders and pedestrians crossing in all black clothes at night in the rain I'm asking myself if they are intentionally suicidal or simply do not care to live.

            Imagine if you will a curving narrow road with huge trees and bushes on either side making the road effectively a green tunnel with mottled sunlight.

            Now imagine you are employed to cut the hedge.

            What to wear while standing in the road? Nice reflective high-visibility jacket? Well in that exact circumstances I came across a trendy moron who thought that a camouflage jacket and matching trousers were the ideal outfit, if his hedge trimmer hadn't been bright red I would never have seen him and I would definitely have squished him.

      3. EBG

        really ?

        So the AC control system is gong to be perfect - just like the rest of IT.

      4. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Who

        "Generally the computer will slow to suit conditions and then stop if anything approaching a bad situation occurs."

        I tend to agree. There are _very_ few "unforseeable accidents" on the road. It usually takes at least 3 bad decisions on the part of multiple people to cause a crash, even when one of the decisions may be bad roadway engineering.

        Humans have a tendency to "press on regardless" and vastly underestimate both their reaction time and stopping distances whilst vastly overestimating situational awareness and driving ability.

        As one example, kids never "just appear from nowhere" despite many claims to the contrary. A properly trained driver will not only spot the movement of feet under a parked car ahead but be slowing down long before the child steps out into the traffic lane. Computers don't suffer from psychological tunnel vision and will be in a better position to see hazards coming from all angles.

    2. tfewster Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: Who

      > But does it prioritize its passengers?

      One could argue that that would be unethical - They chose to ride in the killing machine, the other party is deemed to be innocent.

      Car comes round a blind bend to find a human standing in the road - crash into the wall or kill?

      Car comes round a blind bend to find another auto-car coming the other way (with passengers) - crash into the wall or kill?

      Traffic lights broken, both cars think they have right of way - crash into the wall or kill?

      Add black ice, oil on the road, "invisible" trucks and other undetectable hazards, and even the best driver or computer will get caught out eventually. So Asimovs Third law applies - the car should sacrifice itself (its airbag-protected contents are at lower risk anyway)

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Who

        Like I've said before, I think autonomous cars should give priority to people who are "where they're supposed to be". So if there's a pedestrian on the sidewalk, the car should not be permitted to deliberately leave the road and kill them to avoid a worse accident. But if a person is in the road not in a crosswalk, the car may plow them over if there no other alternative (i.e. cars in the oncoming lane, pedestrians on sidewalks to either side) OK not "plow them over", it'll try to stop, but if it can't that's on the pedestrian for being where he shouldn't be.

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: Who

          The automatic cars fails at the fundermentals of the problem.

          The problem is not driverless cars. It's not drivers. It's not automation.

          It's having an "on rails" system for the vehicle. We don't have one currently. Converting to it is too expensive.

          All these questions and ethics were asked and solutions (to a degree) found when the first cars appeared. The answer? Get people off the roads.

          Now, the option may appear again, with people having to use bridges/crossing areas, pedestrians kept at a distance from roads etc. Such infrastructure change would not be cheap, and is comparable to trams/trains.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Who

            "The answer? Get people off the roads."

            Over my dead body.... Oh, wait a minute, bad choice of words there... :-)

            But more seriously, "Get the people off the roads" is a terrible thing to do. I was horrified when visiting the US that when after following instructions to drive to a restaurant (from a rented apartment) I realised that allowing for mucking around in car parks, I could have got there just as quickly had the person giving the instructions told me to walk rather than drive, but, it being my first day there, I *assumed* the locals knew best.

            For self driving cars, we need a mandatory "black box" accident recording system, which is independently engineered from the car manufacturer but which records sensor data, control inputs and all around 360 degree video. *Then* we can use that to help identify whether a cyclist, pedestrian, or someone driving an old fashioned manually driven car is at fault for doing something dangerous / suicidal, or whether there is a problem with the sensors or underlying software of a self driving vehicle. In the former case, one could easily argue that being hit by a fast moving vehicle is more than enough punishment.

            In the case of a software fault being identified in a self driving car, it might mean a few million people having to drive themselves to work until a patch is agreed with the regulators...

            1. Len Goddard

              Re: Who

              An early experience when I first went to work in the US was to park in front of a big store then, after persuing their produce, cross the road to look in a store on the other side. I was pulled up by a policeman who considered this suspicious behaviour. Apparently "normal" people get back in their car and drive to the parking lot of the store on the other side of the road.

              1. sisk Silver badge

                Re: Who

                I was pulled up by a policeman who considered this suspicious behaviour. Apparently "normal" people get back in their car and drive to the parking lot of the store on the other side of the road.

                I run into this all the time. A preference for walking is highly unusual in the US.

                On a related topic, you should have seen my parents faces when I told them I was excited about moving closer to town because it would put me within cycling distance of a lot of places I frequent. They thought I'd lost my mind when they realized I considered a store just under mile away to be within "cycling distance". And I thought they were going to have me committed when I told them that it was actually within walking distance if I wasn't in a hurry.

            2. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: Who

              "For self driving cars, we need a mandatory "black box" accident recording system, which is independently engineered from the car manufacturer but which records sensor data, control inputs and all around 360 degree video."

              Why are you limiting this to autonomous cars?

              It should be the case in *all* motor vehicles.

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Who

                "It should be the case in *all* motor vehicles."

                It's mostly there already. All cars with airbags have significant levels of black-box functionality in the airbag computer. This data can and has been used for prosecutions and by insurance companies to deny payouts.

            3. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

              Re: Who

              The natural progression of self driving cars is that in the future people will own cars without having driving licenses.

              For me, there's no point owning a self driving car until it can legally drive me home from the pub when I'm absolutely steaming.

            4. DougS Silver badge

              Black boxes

              I'd be very shocked if this isn't a requirement, and even if it isn't I expect that every vendor of autonomous cars would install it anyway because they'd want to make sure their product doesn't get blamed for something that was someone else's fault.

              My point above about prioritizing people who are "where they're supposed to be" wasn't intended to say "people don't belong on the roads". If in a given locale it is legal to walk in the road then the car will need to take that into account as that person is "where they're supposed to be". It all depends on the laws/customs where the car is - just like traffic laws, speed limits, etc. are different in different places. The reason I brought it up was to suggest it doesn't have to be complicated - you don't need the car to make moral decisions about killing three people in the car versus one person walking alongside the road. If they are where they're supposed to be, the car isn't allowed to go there and run over him to save the three people in the car. Simple.

            5. TechnicalBen Silver badge

              Re AC: "Is a horrible thing to do"

              I don't agree with it. But it is the only method short of perfect programming AI. How well do you think we will do in programming AI vs making safer roads?

              If "get people off roads" is not a nice idea, then "make roads specifically for AI cars". But Elon Musk already knows this, and is planning on moving them all underground.

        2. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Who

          "Like I've said before, I think autonomous cars should give priority to people who are "where they're supposed to be". So if there's a pedestrian on the sidewalk, the car should not be permitted to deliberately leave the road and kill them to avoid a worse accident."

          The US has a perverse set of regulations which were imposed by the motor lobby.

          The civilised world doesn't criminalise walking along rights of way. Pedestrians are absolutely entitled to be on any section of the highway (with the exception of some roads, motorways).

          A pedestrian crossing a road is an expected hazard around the civilised world (not that there are exceptions for pedestrians who step off the kerb whilst within a few metres of your vehicle, but you should still be driving slower around places where that might happen).

          The US (implied from your use of the word 'sidewalk') is far from civilised when it comes to transport.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Who

        "Traffic lights broken, both cars think they have right of way - crash into the wall or kill?"

        In most parts of the world when "traffic lights are broken" you are required to either treat it as a 4-way stop (USA) or as a roundabout. The fact that older drivers get confused shows they don't know the road rules.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Traffic light failure

          When they fail they flash red in all directions, it is hardwired into them. If the power is lost and the battery backup is exhausted they'll be off, that's really the only potentially dangerous time (i.e. if you don't see them / don't know they're there and think you have the right of way) Cars would be programmed with maps that know where the traffic lights are, so if they can't "see" the lights they would know something is up and could stop and "look both ways" before proceeding. They'd likely handle that particular situation better than some people.

          1. sisk Silver badge

            Re: Traffic light failure

            To be fair it'd be pretty damned hard to handle it worse than some people.

    3. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Who

      Not specified... I guess that if collision with pedestrians is unavoidable, the passengers will in any case be much safer.

      Another question raised... Does another car count as being property or is it assumed that people are inside? It *should* prefer to crash into other cars rather than pedestrians because at least the other cars' passengers are a bit protected.

    4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Who

      My exact thought.

      An accident on the main street where our cul-de-sac leads comes to mind. I saw it with my own eyes around 10 years ago. Two teenage tw*ts were so engrossed in the conversation with each other that they pulled out less than 5 meters in front of a brand new E-class Merc. They were in a late 80-es (J reg I think) vintage Ford Fiasco rusty banger so if the Merc would have tried to brake it would have hit the driver door straight on. That would have been the end of at least the driver if not both of tw*ts, despite the Merc keeping to the posted 30 mph speed limit. The Merc driver threw the Merc onto the sidewalk where it ended up smashed onto a lamppost. The two idiotic tw*ts ignored him and continued to drive off (someone stopped them a mile down). The Merc driver got out visibly shaken, but without a single scratch.

      Would a computer make the same life (or possibly death) decision facing the same situation? I doubt it. It will most likely attempt breaking and kill a person as a result.

      1. Steve Evans

        Re: Who

        Would a computer make the same life (or possibly death) decision facing the same situation? I doubt it. It will most likely attempt breaking and kill a person as a result.

        In that instance, the computer guided system removing a death trap from the road, and converting the driver into a Darwin award contender, could be seen as progress!

  4. macjules Silver badge

    Kill animals and destroy property before hurting humans

    Glad you cleared that one up. From the headline I thought it might be a methodical instruction by German car manufacturers to kill everything else first and then the humans.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "If an accident is unavoidable, the self-driving ride must not make any choices over who to save"

    How do you program that?

    First you must assign an identifier to the meat sacks, so are we saying put a random number generator in there? I think it will done using probability of saving life but then what if it's a black or white person are you supposed to adjust the numbers so you are not picking one group over another more often?

    Also best to keep this quite from Peta.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Well if Google are behind the identification algorithm then sadly any black pedestrians are out of luck:

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/07/01/google_photos_app_machine_learning_fail/

  6. Timmy B Silver badge

    Next....

    Calls for vegan cars that change those rules....

  7. druck Silver badge
    WTF?

    Picture

    Nice picture; injured or possibly dead person lying unattended in the road, while a police officer takes a statement. Presumably with a fully automated vehicle the officer wouldn't even bother attending, and just download the logs.

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: Picture

      Given the obvious amount of damage to the vehicle from the parts strewn about, I'm wondering what that person must have been made of.

  8. Solarflare

    "If an accident is unavoidable, the self-driving ride must not make any choices over who to save – it can't wipe out an elderly person to save a kid, for instance. No decisions should be made on age, sex, race, disabilities, and so on; all human lives matter."

    Great! Now what about amounts? Does 2 adults trump a child? Does say the POTUS or the Queen trump a us ordinary folk? What about the car driving itself off of a cliff to avoid a crash with a pedestrain, is that OK as there is a chance the occupants might survive if there are lots of airbags? What about it there is a horse and rider? Will the car plough into the horse, kill the animal and hope the rider lands on a soft crumple zone?

    "Ultimately, drivers will still bear responsibility if their autonomous charabanc crashes, unless it was caused by a system failure, in which case the manufacturer is on the hook."

    Sorry? Am I responsible if I am a passenger on the underground? I'm pretty sure I'm not. If it is an autonomous vehicle then I have zero control and should not be held responsible if there is an accident. If the car is driving itself then by definition I am not the driver.

    1. Nolveys Silver badge

      Does 2 adults trump a child? Does say the POTUS or the Queen trump a us ordinary folk?

      By my calculations five monkeys riding dogs is exactly equal to a street mime being attacked by a bear. You should be able to extrapolate from there.

      1. Steve Evans

        I think the El Reg standard units need updating.

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      "Great! Now what about amounts? Does 2 adults trump a child?"

      Not sure why you bring up things like the Queen, given that's already covered by the "not discriminating against anyone" part - if it's a choice between hitting the Queen or hitting a single other human, the car isn't allowed to choose based on the fact that one of them is the Queen. But as you note, there are an awful lot of situations that aren't a simple 1 vs. 1 choice, and automated cars will inevitably be required to discriminate between who they kill based on some criteria. Blindly legislating that they're not allowed to make a choice over who to save can't prevent situations arising that will require exactly that.

      Of course, the bigger problem is that this isn't a question people agree on in the first place. It's all just variations of the Trolley Problem - a runaway train is heading towards 5 people on a track, if you pull a switch you can divert it to a different track with only 1 person standing on it; do you pull the switch or not? In this bare problem, most people will say you should pull the switch, but not all even agree on that. Throw some complications into the mix and things get, well, complicated. Basic complications such as changing the number of people or saying the lone person is your partner, the 5 are clones of Hitler, and so on, can be relatively easy to deal with if you agree on the base problem, and the latter two are the sorts of things that would be covered by the recommendations given here. But things like removing the lone person from the track and instead saying you have to personally murder them in order to reach the switch can make huge differences in how people view the problem, and that's exactly the sort of scenario that's most analogous to the issues autonomous cars will face.

      Long story short, we're trying to decide how autonomous cars should behave without actually agreeing on how humans would or should behave in an identical scenario, and in the absence of a universally agreed objective morality, it's not going to be an easy issue to solve.

    3. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      My problem is with the "destroy property" first bit since it would imply that it would be able to differentiate between a person pushing a shopping cart and another pushing a baby carriage/pram. Does it take out the leading "property" in an effort to save the obvious person in each case? What about instances like cos-play where someone may be dressed as a horse; does it save superman and hit the "horse"?

      If an accident is unavoidable...

      Sorry, this is one that irks me a bit so pardon the tangent. I question whether the vast majority of "accidents" are actually accidents. Certainly when the miscellaneous deer, turkey, etc. darts out in front of your car it is an accident but in general when another human is involved it is far more likely that one party is being negligent. It could be the prat who is over tired and falls asleep at the wheel, is too busy playing pokemon on their phone to look up, or is otherwise simply being a dumbass whether inside the car or not. I'll even allow that since we expect some humans to be dumbasses such as the small child who rashly chases a ball into the street because they don't know better and so would fall into the deer category because they're aren't yet fully aware of concepts like responsibility and negligence although perhaps a case could be made against their parents.

      A crash resulting from mechanical failure could be an accident if the failure is of the type that isn't foreseen such as an unnoticed defect in a control arm allows it to separate and the wheel falls off, a highly unlikely event. Mechanical failure would be negligence if it was a wear item that wasn't replaced in a timely manner such as the brake pad that's been screaming for several months and has now ejected the cylinder from the caliper resulting in a total loss in hydraulic pressure in the circuit; something I've actually seen when I worked at a service station1 in my youth.

      Essentially if we can eliminate the negligence parts we could greatly reduce the number of crashes and we'd be left with the very small number of true accidents that need to be addressed. Unfortunately autonomous vehicles can't do anything about the haphazard dolt who is engrossed with their current texting session and either driving a current vehicle or even walking.

      1. For the younger folks, a service station is where someone would rush out to your car when you pulled up to the fuel pump and they put fuel in your car, washed the windows, and checked the oil. The were also capable of performing other repair services on automobiles ranging from anything as simple as a tire repair or changing the oil to rebuilding a transmission. Most of them now only sell soda, chips, coffee, etc. as well as leave you to filling your car yourself unless you find yourself in New Jersey where, if you're lucky, the "attendant" might remember to reinstall the filler cap.

      1. earl grey Silver badge
        Unhappy

        @Eddy Ito

        And they would check your tyre pressure, top them up if necessary; top up your washer fluid (in later years); take your cash and give you proper change without you having to count it out for them.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "If it is an autonomous vehicle then I have zero control and should not be held responsible if there is an accident."

      Yep, was reading about the new Audi A8. Audi chappy said....

      "If you're offering Level 3 (autonomy), we are in charge of the driving part. That means, of course, if we have driven, then we are responsible."

      So Audi bloke reckons it can be their fault if it crashes. Which I think is totally fair. If I'm still responsible when the 'puter is driving, then I'm going to be doing the driving thanks, not the computer.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    According to British laws concerning driving, cats aren't animals. Only dogs, goats, horses, cattle, donkeys, mules, sheep and pigs are recognised.

    That said, I once rang 999 after hitting a deer, and the coppers who turned up thanked me because at that time of year deer were often found in pairs: if one had jumped in front of my van then its mate night do the same to a smaller, more vulnerable car. My motives were that I hated seeing it suffering but its antlers dissuaded me from getting close enough to brain it.

  10. LaeMing Silver badge
    Go

    From somewhere on the Internet (possibly even here some time past, I didn't record the source, sorry).

    Just need to tweak the wording a bit:

    " I found the 3 Laws of Robotics of interest but David Langford’s version captures my position more accurately:

    " 1. A robot will not harm authorized personnel but will terminate intruders with extreme prejudice.

    " 2. A robot will obey the orders of authorized personnel except where such orders conflict with the Third Law.

    " 3. A robot will guard its own existence with lethal antipersonnel weaponry, because a robot is bloody expensive. "

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge
      Terminator

      " 4. All robots will have a copy of the original robocop movie and all the terminator movies in order to guard its own existence better. "

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        " 5. Robots must at all times use the phrase "bidi bidi" to throw humans off the scent."

        1. Steve Evans

          6. All robots must complain about being cleaned with a brillo pad, and express a preference for a car wash .

          1. earl grey Silver badge
            Happy

            7. All robots must reply with "by your command" when responding to human direction.

  11. M7S

    I know he flies, but are we preventing Santa having an autonomous sleigh?

    "If a situation on the road goes south"

    How else does one leave the North Pole?

  12. ukgnome

    Who Cares

    As long as they sound like KITT

    1. Steve Evans

      Re: Who Cares

      I remember channel hopping whilst abroad, and discovering Knight Rider in German.

      I couldn't really understand a word of it, but the original voice sounded positively butch and macho compared to the German dub!

      An interior retrim in the style of a Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen boudoir would have completed it beautifully.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All that's needed is legislation that says in the event of an incident involving an autonomous vehicle, at which the fault could be attributable to behaviour (erroneous or as per design) of the car's software, then the developer and test team which signed it off are personally liable.

    Specify a mandatory jail term for the culpable parties.

    Putting the developers on the line would mean that they'd never want to sign the software off, just in case anything ever did go wrong.

    All other questions then become moot.

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge
      Coat

      Great! All you need now is an ambiguous motto, something like "Executing progress"

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Putting the developers on the line would mean that they'd never want to sign the software off, just in case anything ever did go wrong.

      I would have a hard time doing this, either via law or even as a juror at a trial. We all know that developers do as they're told. Sign off means that they followed the company spec per managlement. Now if manglement (up to to and actually including board) were culpable then that's a good thing.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When does three equal two?

    "...Germany is, famously, home to a large number of car manufacturers – including BMW, Mercedes and Daimler to name but three..."

    Mecedes (Benz, AMG, etc.) is part of the Daimler group.

    In the past (from early '60s), if you wanted to buy a Daimler car it would have been a badge engineered Jaguar.

  15. nickx89

    initiative

    Did I read, "Ultimately, drivers will still bear responsibility if their autonomous charabanc crashes, unless it was caused by a system failure"?? If it's an autonomous car it would not be in control of human or will it bail out in the moments of accident?

    Though ethically wrong, but it's an initiative towards regulating the autonomous car driving.

  16. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Statistics?

    I wanted to review the relative death rates of car occupants vs bicycles, pedestrians, motorcycles, etc. So I Googled for some info. And I found (among other things) this article in The Guardian. Problem: The category 'other road users' seems to be the most variable between regions. In some regions, like S.E. Asia, car occupants are less (and motorcycles more) likely to perish probably due to the relative use of each type of vehicle. But a lot of the data appears to be hidden in this 'other' category. And it is not well explained. Perhaps it is bus plunges.

    I was prepared to make some snide remarks about pedestrian deaths in Asian countries, after having seen quite a few gruesome surveillance cam posts and apparent lack of traffic/pedestrian control compared to Western countries. But the death rate in this area (according to the WHO data) appears to be lower. Perhaps the worst thing we do here in the West is to lull pedestrians (and cyclists) into a false sense of security by painting green boxes and crossings for them to use. And then we run over them. In Asia, there appears to be less of this. And the pedestrians (and bicycles) watch for the crazy drivers. And survive at a far greater rate.

  17. Philip Stott

    Are numbers a consideration?

    Ok, fair enough, let's not discriminate on age, sex, ethnicity, etc, but given an accident with unavoidable human injuries shouldn't the number of humans injured in each possible scenario be considered?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not really

    "the nation's Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure – a curious combination that suggests they took "information superhighway" too literally"

    Not really curious, nor unique in Europe. It just could have been more briefly named Ministry of Communications.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do not let El Reg headline writers program cars

    "Kill animals and destroy property before hurting humans, Germany tells future self-driving cars"

    Or they will go first for your cat, wreck your conservatory, and then hunt you down.

    1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Do not let El Reg headline writers program cars

      Too many software types here. Lets take it back to the top of the road, restart it and see if it does it again.

  20. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    Working near a school, I hate the notion of autonomous cars that automatically avoid collisions, because schoolkids will just use this fact to step into the road without looking, knowing autonomous cars will just stop, they won't bother using crossings anymore.

    There are two schools on the same road, one further up about 3/4 of a mile away. It's going to be a horrid stop/start experience for many commuting along that route.

  21. This post has been deleted by its author

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    this is progress :)

    compared to, say, the 'logic' presented in https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/07/05/selfdriving_algorithms_that_make_ethical_decisions_based_on_impulse/

    or

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/11/18/helping_autonomous_vehicles_and_humans_share_the_road/

    and the rather worrying simulation offered (linked-to) at http://moralmachine.mit.edu/ which I remember giving up on after less than a half-dozen scenarios ... because it just felt wrong ...

    To put it another way, we can't expect a machine to solve a problem, (the trolley problem) that we don't know how to solve, (that's another way to state the Church-[Taski-]Turing thesis, isn't it ?)

    We can't expect 'machine learning' to 'just do this' without much more & better real world knowledge than we (humans) could realistically acquire, process and apply within very short time-scales ...

    That, I think & hope, is the edge that AI systems should have ...

  23. Jtom

    I won't underestimate the possobility that one day we will have autonomous cars, if civilization lasts that long. I have underestimated what technology can do too many times before.

    What I dread is the transition period during which people are suppose to still be at the wheel to handle odd situations. Are you kidding me? We already have a problem with inattentive drivers who are suppose to be in complete and sole control of their vehicles. Allow some autonomy, and no one will be paying any attention at all.

    I have manual transmission cars (Honda Prelude andj S2000, both fine cars). It is a pain in the bcakside in the normal stop-and-go traffic we have here, but with one hand on the wheel, one on the stick, one foot on the clutch, and the other working the gas and brakes, you have no option but to be ONLY driving. No cellphone, internet, ebook, whatever. Sometimes I think we would do better if we reduced the automation in cars. Ban automatic transmission (yes, I know, that would never happen, but I think the roads might actually be safer).

    I would rather they keep autonomous cars off the road until they are 100% autonomous.

    1. kiwimuso

      @jtom

      "Sometimes I think we would do better if we reduced the automation in cars."

      I've thought this for some time.

      From personal observation, for what it's worth, every so called "safety" device added to cars seems to have resulted in far worse driving than before, and I see the same thing happening with potential additions.

      Take eye level brake lights which were mandated some years ago. I'm sorry, you should not be driving on the car in front's brake lights, and if you couldn't see the regular brake lights, then you were driving too damn close anyway. You should be looking several vehicles in front of you, and if they can't be seen i.e.following a large vehicle, then there should be a good sized gap left in front of you.

      Reversing cameras. How about car designers actually designing cars with adequate vision to rearwards. I can remember cars which were a doddle to reverse and see if it was clear or not.

      Ditto for blind spot warning. Use your damn mirrors, and throw a glance to the side BEFORE making your manouvre.

      The more that these "useful" safety additions are made to cars, the more that people assume that they are safe as "no warning" equals safe. BS of the highest order.

      Last year I bought a vehicle with the least electronics and safety gizmos that I could find, specifically in order to not for one moment be tempted that it's OK to do whatever, because nothing warned me.

      I use my eyes and brains, anticipate road conditions (as far as is practicable) and turned off all electronic "assistance" as far as possible, and fortunately, my vehicle is not one of those that automatically lock the doors when moving. I will lock the doors as and when I see fit. I do NOT want a car telling me how I should drive or even worse, potentially overriding my actions. I will take responsibility for my own actions and decisions thank-you very much.

      And before all you do gooders jump down my throat explaining why I should accept being controlled by some bit of silicon and a designers poor sense, I have not had an accident other than a minor ding from a parking misjudgment (mea culpa) in the last 30 years. And that's after 50 something years and many miles of driving. I am not a slow, over cautious driver either. I have been known to exceed the speed limit in certain circumstances, not to excess, and used judiciously and in some cases I have been known to be well under any speed limit because of road condition, visibility or what ever.

      I tend to concentrate on my driving much to the annoyance of my other half when she is talking to me in the car. Obviously, being human, my attention may wander, but I do try to keep my attention on the road when other drivers are around, or the state of the road demands it.

  24. Jtom

    This whole issue is a shiny bauble to distract you from the true intent of the 'ruling class'. First they establish a date when all internal combustion engines will be banned. EVs are to be the future. But there are no plans to roll out charging stations, or to upgrade the electric grid to provide the power necessary to charge all our vehicles. Why not? Because neither will be needed. They will raise the price of power (tiered based on usage) such that you simple can't afford to heat your home AND charge a car. Now, onlt the very affluent can afford vehicles. They can install their own charging systems, and the grid could handle the small increase of electrical requirements.

    I suspect they are already salivating over the money they can save not doing new road construction, less road repair, less traffic police needed, fewer accidents, etc., and as a bonus, they will never be stuck in traffic again. You? You will be on bicycles, buses, trains, subways, or walking.

  25. Roger Mew

    Many moons ago I was put on a skid pan in a truck to stop us swerving to avoid an accident, however, it will not be really possible and take the following scenario.

    A small child runs out in front of you from the pavement side. you will automatically swerve as will the auto system. On the other side of the central reservation hedge there is a bus queue of kids. You will swerve into them killing several and maiming more. The auto vehicle can NOT be programmed to do this otherwise it will kill the toddler! The vehicular situation on terra firma is not the same as trains or planes and the reliability will not be sustainable. How many of you have remote key locking on 433.925, Mhz, and how many do I block when running 50 watts into a radio repeater. A range of 50 miles may be good. All radio systems are potentially subject to interference. Put the freight on railways!

  26. earl grey Silver badge
    Devil

    "mowing down other creatures"

    I got me some bacon!

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