Endangering yourself to save another: A real life ethical dilemma


Unlike hypothetical trolley problem studies and an ongoing ethical dilemma with autonomous vehicles, road users can face similar ethical dilemmas in real life. Swerving a heavy vehicle towards the road-side in order to avoid a head-on crash with a much lighter passenger car is often the only option available which could save lives. However, running off-road increases the probability of a roll-over and endangers the life of the heavy vehicle driver. We have created an experimental survey study in which heavy vehicle drivers randomly received one of two possible scenarios. We found that respondents were more likely to report they would ditch their vehicle in order to save the hypothetical driver who fell asleep than to save the driver who deliberately diverted their car towards the participant’s heavy vehicle. Additionally, the higher the empathy score, the higher the probability of ditching a vehicle. Implications for autonomous vehicle programming are discussed. © 2019 Elsevier Ltd

Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour