Artificial Intelligence and Law

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 365–378 | Cite as

The Ethical Knob: ethically-customisable automated vehicles and the law

  • Giuseppe Contissa
  • Francesca Lagioia
  • Giovanni Sartor


Accidents involving autonomous vehicles (AVs) raise difficult ethical dilemmas and legal issues. It has been argued that self-driving cars should be programmed to kill, that is, they should be equipped with pre-programmed approaches to the choice of what lives to sacrifice when losses are inevitable. Here we shall explore a different approach, namely, giving the user/passenger the task (and burden) of deciding what ethical approach should be taken by AVs in unavoidable accident scenarios. We thus assume that AVs are equipped with what we call an “Ethical Knob”, a device enabling passengers to ethically customise their AVs, namely, to choose between different settings corresponding to different moral approaches or principles. Accordingly, AVs would be entrusted with implementing users’ ethical choices, while manufacturers/programmers would be tasked with enabling the user’s choice and ensuring implementation by the AV.


Autonomous vehicle Liability and automation Ethical dilemmas 



The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their many valuable comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giuseppe Contissa
    • 1
  • Francesca Lagioia
    • 1
  • Giovanni Sartor
    • 1
  1. 1.CIRSFIDUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly

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