A new bill could put fully autonomous vehicles on PA roads. Does he pass the business ethics test?

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Fully autonomous vehicles – without a human safety driver – may soon be the norm on Pennsylvania roads.

State officials on Wednesday shared new proposed legislation allowing autonomous vehicle companies to test their products in Pennsylvania without a human driver. At a press conference in Carnegie Mellon University Mill 19 center to Hazel greenrepublican State Senator Wayne Langerholc Jr., Democrat State Senator Jay Costa and Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Yassmin Gramian introduced Senate Bill 965, which will allow test vehicles to operate at level 3, 4 or 5 of range as defined through SAE International.

While the legislation is said to be new for Pennsylvania, similar steps have already been taken in other states, such as Texas, Arizona and Florida. But as a research and development hub for the technology, this bill could ensure that the success of local businesses like Dawn, IA Argo, Location, Movement and more is not outsourced to other states, but kept in the domain of the residents and institutions that have helped these businesses grow.

With the proposed bill, “we are sending a message to the nation and the world that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will be a leader in this emerging billion dollar industry and that our Commonwealth is open for business,” Langerholc said at the event. The bill, he said, is the product of bipartisan efforts across multiple levels of government and business in the hopes of making Pennsylvania an “epicenter” for the autonomous vehicle industry.

Ethical considerations

With disruptive technology still lacking public trust, questions remain about the ethics behind fully allowing trucks and driverless cars on the road. John hooker, professor of business ethics and social responsibility at CMU Tepper School of Business, Recount Technically that this is a topic his classes discuss frequently.

“In the world of ethics, we have two principles that apply to a problem like this,” he said. “One we call the utilitarian principle and the other is the autonomy principle. “

John Hooker. (Photo via LinkedIn)

The utilitarian principle has to do with maximizing the benefits when it comes to releasing this level of autonomous vehicle on the road. This principle should be easy enough to fulfill, he said, given the incredible danger of human-operated vehicles today.

“There’s a long-term benefit there and accelerating research – since Pennsylvania has world-class research in this area – is definitely a way to access that benefit,” Hooker said.

In addition, the way the state currently deals with mitigating risky or dangerous drivers on the road is through taking a driving test. There is no reason, Hooker argued, that the same cannot be done for self-driving vehicles, besides providing liability coverage and data as an assurance of their safety. Considering all this, autonomous vehicles seem to pass the utilitarian principle.

As for the principle of autonomy, which states that a product or concept must not put someone at risk of injury or death without informed consent, Hooker said that is even easier to satisfy. Humans already give informed consent to the danger of road vehicles every time they get into a car or cross the street. These behaviors act as an acceptance of risk, although it is accompanied by the assumption that the vehicles meet expected safety standards.

This line of thinking is the same for self-driving vehicles: “If they live up to normal expectations for safety in a car, and we don’t have a range violation because we have consent. enlightened, can it reasonably be said that the self-driving car is as safe as one would expect from a car with a human driver? Hooker asked. “If it’s true, or if you can reasonably believe it’s true, then we take this test.”

The trust factor

Still, he acknowledged that a large portion of the public might not yet trust autonomous, driverless vehicles despite the technology that passes these ethical tests. But it may only be a matter of time before the idea is normalized. While any related autonomous vehicle accidents like that of an autonomous car Uber Car in Arizona in 2018 is likely to attract an inordinate share of media attention, Hooker said, this does not affect the actual ethics behind the technology’s implementation.

“Even though the public has an irrational fear of self-driving cars, it does not affect ethical choice,” he said. “The company need only ask: are we imposing a higher level of risk than that already imposed by human-driven vehicles? And if not, then they’re ethically off the hook.

Given the number of technologies or other consumer products whose total risk was not apparent at the time of their launch – think DDT, social media, x-ray machines – public reluctance is understandable. But that probably won’t stop autonomous vehicle companies from pursuing commercial launches over the next two years.


Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member of Report for America, an initiative of the Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.

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