Should Manual Driving be (Eventually) Outlawed?


In recent years, tech evangelists have made headlines predicting that in the future manual driving will be outlawed. This essay will investigate the question whether a ban of human driven cars can be defended on moral grounds in a future scenario in which autonomous cars are going to be significantly safer than manually driven cars. This article will argue that in such a future scenario manually driven cars, for moral reasons, indeed should be banned from participating in regular traffic. Since the moral argument for outlawing manually driven cars will likely be met by resistance by car-aficionados, in the final part of the paper, we are devising a proposal for reconciling the strong moral case for a ban of manually driven cars with the widespread fondness of manual driving.

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  1. 1.

    This is not say that the treshold explanation might not be a fitting explanation for other cases.

  2. 2.

    This is a slight variation on a thought experiment by Brennan (2016: 40).

  3. 3.

    What the hand grenade thought experiment shows then are two things: First, that the risk involved in traffic is non-negligble (and thus the threshold explanation does not work) and second, that people do not accept being exposed to non-neglible risks without some form of compensation (more on that on the next few pages). This is all the thought experiment is meant to show.

  4. 4.

    The tradeoff between safety and convenience differs between countries but the common theme seems to be that behavior that is deemed unnecessary risky (e.g. driving under the influence or reckless speeding) is usually forbidden.

  5. 5.

    For pleasure as opposed to, say, a means of self-protection.

  6. 6.

    Whether granting everybody the ability to choose their own ethics setting, however, is a morally desirable option is a different matter.

  7. 7.

    At the same time exposing someone to risk through driving versus through burning fuel has of course important differences. One of them is that in driving, a single driver A is usually responsible for the injury or death of a driver B, while in the environmental case the causal chain (and thus the questions of responsibility) are much more complicated.

  8. 8.

    We focus here on P3 since P4 is dependent on P3.

  9. 9.

    Contrary to popular belief, the lack of a general speed limit on the German Autobahn does not protect a driver from being held liable if an accident occurs in which excessive speed is seen as a major factor, even if the high speed is not punishable per se. The law requires drivers to only drive as fast as they are still able to keep the car under control. This means that speeds must be adapted to certain conditions like the state of the road, the amount of traffic, and weather conditions (especially visibility). Also, personal skills must be taken into consideration as well as the adequacy of the type of vehicle to be reasonably driven at high speeds.

  10. 10.

    This is a condensed version of the 5-level-taxonomy provided by the NHTSA.

  11. 11.

    One can debate whether human should always be able to trigger some kind of emergency mode that gives them control over the car even in ACS. We abstract away from those kind of emergency scenarios here since they are not relevant for our current discussion.


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Correspondence to Jan Gogoll.

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Müller, J.F., Gogoll, J. Should Manual Driving be (Eventually) Outlawed?. Sci Eng Ethics 26, 1549–1567 (2020).

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  • Autonomous cars
  • Self-driving car
  • Ethics
  • Ban
  • Safety
  • Moral