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Ethical Issues with Autonomous Vehicles

Executive Summary

Tesla Motor is an America car manufacture that make electric vehicles and focus time to the fully autonomous vehicle that could very well be driving the world soon. There have been complaints and tragic cases of the autopilot system with the Tesla car models. The paper will explore the benefits and ethical dilemmas of autonomous vehicles of Tesla Motor Co.

Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are driverless vehicles that can move and guide themselves without human input. Autonomous vehicles are built to be aware of their currents surroundings by using cameras, sensors, and artificial intelligence. The first thought of vehicle safety was making a car crash test rating the best it could be. The second thought was to eliminate human error with the capabilities of AI in autonomous vehicles. The need for driving innovation is clear: Motor vehicle deaths topped 40,000 in 2017 according to the National Safety Council. A recent study by RAND Corporation estimates that putting AVs on the road once the technology is just 10 percent better than human drivers could save thousands of lives. Industry leaders continue to push ahead with the development of AVs: Over $80 billion has been invested so far in AV technology (Hustad, 2016, para.3).

Tesla Motors

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Tesla Motors is an American car company that only makes electric vehicles and is at the forefront of the autonomous vehicles race. Tesla motors as of today has cars on the road that are capable of driving themselves. Most of Tesla’s cars will have a driver that is behind the wheel just in case the AI systems are not reading the current situation. If there is a driver behind the will of a Tesla that is in autopilot mode, the car is not yet considered an autonomous vehicle. Ellon Musk co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors claimed Tesla’s will be available to autonomously navigate densely populated areas by the end of the year. Owners will be able to rent out their cars when not using them, he says. These autonomous taxis would ferry other passengers while their owners are at work or home. Proceeds go to the owner after Tesla takes its cut (Graeme, 2019, para.19).

Tesla’s autopilot mode computer programing and engineering accomplishment that has not yet been perfected. The Tesla model lineup consists of two sedans and two crossover/SUV. “All new Tesla cars come standard with advanced hardware capable of providing Autopilot features today, and full self-driving capabilities in the future through software updates designed to improve functionality over time (Autopilot, 2020, para.1)”. They are all capable of the new advanced autopilot mode that comes with advanced sensor coverage, the processing power increased 40x, autopilot navigation that suggests the best lane, autosteer, and smart summon that allows the Tesla to drive itself out of the garage or a tight parking spot. All of these features are awesome and come with full safety features to keep the driver and pedestrians safe. The only problem with this utopian type of car is reality. Tesla might seem to be smarter and think faster than most things but when it comes to saving the driver or pedestrian what does choose.

The responsibility of a driver is to keep themselves and others on the road safe. Tesla’s Autopilot system combines adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping and auto lane-change. The company’s latest safety report registered one accident for every 2.87m miles driven with Autopilot engaged. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in America says human-driven cars are involved in crashes every 436,000 miles (Graeme, 2019, para.20). With these numbers it’s easy to see how much safer autonomous vehicles are than traditional driving. The only thing that cannot be explained with statistics facts is the ethical dilemma on the decision making of a computer that was made by a human.

Tesla’s autopilot mode is the generic feature that comes with all Tesla models. This mode is the closest thing to an autonomous vehicle as of today. It is known that technology without human assistance tends to make terrible decisions from, time to time, like autonomous vehicles running into walls or hitting pedestrians. On March 23, 2018 a crash in Mountain View, California involving a Tesla Model X in autopilot mode claimed the life of its driver. Huang complained to family and friends that his car veered toward a concrete barrier on multiple occasions at a specific location along southbound U.S. 101. Data analyzed by crash investigators verified that at least one of these incidents occurred four days before his Model X swerved into the concrete barrier and claimed Huang’s life (Bigelow, 2020, para.3). A promise for fully autonomous vehicles like passenger vehicles or taxis get pushed further downstream, because of a disaster where technology is held responsible.” Robot cars don’t fall asleep at the wheel, or text on their cellphones, or get blinded by the sun, or drive while intoxicated. But apparently, they also don’t always slow down when an accident is about to happen. Amazingly, Tesla’s response to the accident was to blame the driver. Their official statement claims, “the only way for this accident to have occurred is if was not paying attention to the road (Blanchard, 2018, para.3)”.

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Analysis of Ethical Theories.

There will be eight ethical theories that will be discussed to further pursue the ethical dilemma with autonomous vehicles. These ethical theories will show how ethical or unethical the autopilot system is in Tesla’s vehicles. This is the beta version for there future fully autonomous lineup.

Divine Command Theory.

The divine command theory is on which the resolution of dilemmas is based upon religious beliefs. Ethical dilemmas are resolved according to the tenets of a faith, such as the Ten Commandments for the Jewish and Christian Faiths (Jennings, 2018). This idea tends to the ideas of God and lessons that come from the bible. If a man vows a vow to the Lord or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Numbers 30:2). Swearing an oath or saying something will happen is bound by a man word according to God’s will. Under divine command theory Tesla would be considered unethical because the autopilot mode promises to keep the driver safe while having hands free driving experience. This oath was broken when a man died in a fatal accident that was caused by a semi-autonomous vehicle that couldn’t anticipate the upcoming hazards.

Ethical Egoism

Ethical Egoism claims I morally ought to perform some action if and only if, and because, performing that action maximizes my self-interest (Shaver, 2019). This means that most actions taken under this theory are considered ethical. This is because ethical egoism is thought of with self-interest will be justified likewise. Tesla’s self-interest is to help improve the driver experience with efficiency and help full autonomous driving capabilities. This is also to keep the roads safer in the future and of course maximize Tesla’s profits. Any direction that is taken will be acted within their self-interest making this theory ethical.

Hobbesian Self-Interest

Hobbes, according to his liberal critics, had parlayed psychological egoism into a defense of absolute sovereignty, along with the corollary doctrine that individuals must surrender their rights and obey an absolute government unconditionally to maintain social order (George, 2014). People have their self-interest is natural, but it must be monitored but a government. The government can help with more regulations regarding certain aspects of people’s self-interests. The laws and regulation that goes into the making of autonomous vehicles is something that must be done to protect the people.

Adam Smith Self-Interest

Adam smith is known as the father of modern economics. Smith’s view on ethical egoism is one derived from an economical approach. Every individual… neither intends to promote the public interest nor knows how much he is promoting it… he intends only his security (Adam Smith, 1776). Tesla knows how much it can control its interests. Knowing this Tesla will be concerned with its securities and not how the securities of others to the same standard. In the long run it is more beneficial for a company to stay making a profit than dumping profits into the self-interests of others.


Utilitarianism is the polar opposite of ethical egoism because it sides with the majority and not self-interests. “A theory that the aim of action should be the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain or the greatest happiness of the greatest number (Utilitarianism-Merriam)”. Tesla wants to promote the majority by providing consumers with a safe way to commute. If autonomous vehicles only crash every 2.7 million miles while human driver crashes every 436,000 miles. With the numbers in the favor of autonomous vehicles it is clear to see that Tesla idea of what is best for the future of all transportation. Therefor Tesla is ethical under utilitarianism.

Categorical Imperative

Categorical imperative by Immanuel Kant says, “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your personal or in that of another, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means (Tim, 2018)”. This mostly means that people should treat others the way they would want to be treated. The view that Tesla has is treating people with importance. Because of the technology that is built within the car it is made to keep passengers safe. So by keeping passengers safe and Tesla wanting them to be safe is ethical under categorical imperative.

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Contractarianism is a name both a political theory of the legitimacy of political authority and a moral theory about the origin or legitimate content of moral norms (Cudd, 2017). The social contract binds the self-interests of the party. This is the belief that self-interest will drive one to make the correct and moral decision, as long as, it stays with the bounds of the social contract. Tesla motors stay within the bounds of the social contract by providing itself with success and providing customers with an over experience of semi-autonomous driving. Tesla would be ethical because it stays within the social contract of autonomous vehicles.

Rights Theory

Rights theory creates a personal barrier of safety because everyone has the right to live danger-free. Auto companies will be on the frontlines of the charm offensive needed to sway public opinion on data security, privacy, and driver safety. It’s the responsibility of these companies to help consumers understand that the sharing of driver data brings greater road safety and fewer fatalities (O’Brien, 2018). Providing the rights for better road safety is a top concern for Tesla Motors and Tesla believes that autonomous vehicles are the answer. The right to better vehicle safety is for all passengers and drivers alike. Under the right theory Tesla is ethical because it is providing better vehicle safety rights.

Moral Relativism

Moral relativists believe in time and place ethics (Jennings, 2018). Moral relativism says doing something bad to remove something worse is ok. Its kind of like fighting fire with fire, while this seems like a good idea at some point everyone gets burned. This is a great example for Tesla providing people with semi-autonomous vehicles that have killed people. It is like the say goes, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet and sacrificing a few people to keep everyone after that safe is justified by moral relativism. There is no telling how many times this might happen in the future when Tesla is rolling out fully autonomous vehicles to the public. When analyzed under moral relativism Tesla is unethical because you can take the meaning and lower it to any degree that is necessary for the situation on hand.

Virtue Ethics.

Virtue ethics it may, initially, be identified as the one that emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to the approach that emphasizes duties or rules or that emphasizes the consequences of actions (Hursthouse, 2016). Tesla’s virtue ethics most relate to the ease of life for the daily consumer. So being able to have the ability to provide for others is important. A car that can drive itself would allow for more productivity and this would help make everything more efficient. Under virtue ethics, Tesla’s would be ethical because they do want the best for people and the world.


Tesla Motors is close to making fully autonomous vehicles. When it comes to the ethical dilemmas there are a few key points that could be made about how awful Tesla is and how autonomous vehicles are dangerous. Overall the idea of fully autonomous vehicles is great because the only downside to it is for people that like to drive and get in car wrecks. With the way, technology advances the fully autonomous Tesla will be a revolutionary vehicle that will change the world.


  • Autopilot. (2020, January 1). Retrieved March 20, 2020, from https://www.tesla.com/autopilot
  • Bigelow, P. (2020). Many Tesla Autopilot probes, but little action: Pressure on regulators grows. automotive News, 94(6921), 8.
  • Blanchard, D. (2018). Tesla: Unsafe at Every Speed? It’s never a good idea to play the CYA game when it comes to safety. EHS Today, 11(4), 4.
  • Cudd, A., & Eftekhari, S. (2017, March 15). Contractarianism. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/contractarianism/
  • George H. Smith Facebook. (2014, November 21). Self-Interest and Social Order in Classical Liberalism: Thomas Hobbes. Retrieved from https://www.libertarianism.org/columns/self-interest-social-order-classical-liberalism-thomas-hobbes
  • Graeme Lennox. (2019). Self-driving cars ’will save countless lives ‘Chip-maker Nvidia is taking on Tesla over autonomous vehicles — and one of its bosses is coming to Kerry, writes Graeme Lennox. Sunday Times (London, England), 23.
  • Hursthouse, R., & Pettigrove, G. (2016, December 8). Virtue Ethics. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-virtue/
  • Hustad, K. (n.d.). Self-Driving Car Ethics. Retrieved https://www.digitalethics.org/essays/self-driving-car-ethics
  • Jennings, M. (2018). Business ethics: case studies and selected readings. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
  • O’Brien, C. (2018, May 12). From Machine to Mindset: The Ethical Dilemma of Car Data. Retrieved February 12, 2020, from https://www.solstice.com/fwd/from-machine-to-mindset-the-ethical-dilemma-of-car-data
  • Shaver, R. (2019, January 15). Egoism. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/egoism/
  • The Theory of Moral Sentiments. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.adamsmith.org/the-theory-of-moral-sentiments
  • Tim. (2018, September 24). Kant and Categorical Imperative. Retrieved from https://www.the-philosophy.com/kant-categorical-imperative
  • Utilitarianism. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/utilitarianism

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Ethical Issues with Autonomous Vehicles
Executive Summary Tesla Motor is an America car manufacture that make electric vehicles and focus time to the fully autonomous vehicle that could very well be driving the world soon. There have been complaints and tragic cases of the autopilot system with the Tesla car models. The paper will explore the benefits and ethical dilemmas of autonomous vehicles of Tesla Motor Co. Autonomous Vehicles Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are driverless vehicles that can move and guide themsel
2021-08-19 09:44:19
Ethical Issues with Autonomous Vehicles
$ 13.900 2018-12-31
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