On June 20, 2017, the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure issued a report on the ethics of Automated and Connected Cars (the “Report”). The Report was developed by a multidisciplinary Ethics Commission established in September 2016 for the purpose of developing essential ethical guidelines for the use of automated and connected cars.

The Report acknowledges that self-driving technologies will lead to increased road safety, but also raise a wide range of ethical and privacy concerns that must be addressed. According to its chair, the Ethics Commission “has developed initial guidelines that permit the use of automated transportation systems, but that also take into account the special requirements of safety, human dignity, individual self-determination and data autonomy.”

Key points from the Report’s 20 ethical guidelines are as follows:

  • Automated and connected transportation (driving) is ethically required when these systems cause fewer accidents than human drivers.
  • Damage to property must be allowed before injury to persons: in situations of danger, the protection of human life takes highest priority.
  • In the event of unavoidable accidents, all classification of people based on their personal characteristics (age, gender, physical or mental condition) is prohibited.
  • In all driving situations, it must be clearly defined and recognizable who is responsible for the task of driving – the human or the computer. Who is driving must be documented and recorded (for purposes of potential questions of liability).
  • The driver must fundamentally be able to determine the sharing and use of his driving data (data sovereignty).

The guidelines also provide that business models based on using the data created by automated and connected cars must be circumscribed by the autonomy and data sovereignty of the drivers. The vehicle owners and users make decisions about the sharing and use of the data related to their driving. Data use practices currently prevalent with search engines and social networks should be counteracted early on.

The Report also discusses a wide range of additional questions associated with self-driving and connected cars, including the need to harmonize and balance the principle of data minimization with the demands of traffic safety, as well as competitiveness in the context of global business models for deriving value from data. The Report acknowledges the many interests in such data beyond traffic safety, such as state security interests and the commercial interests of the private sector. In that context, informational self-determination should not be understood solely for the purpose of personal privacy, but also as enabling decisions to share data.