36488489 - a man in a autonomous driving  test vehicle

One of the biggest questions that lawyers and regulators ask autonomous car manufacturers (Mercedes-Benz, Google, Tesla, and others) is this:

Will their cars prefer the safety of the occupant or the pedestrians or other vehicles?

While most of the self-driving car companies are hesitant to have their say, Mercedes-Benz has a clear stance.

It will try saving anybody inside the car.

Also Read: Google hits the brakes on its self-driving car. But why?

Christoph von Hugo, manager of driver assistance systems and active safety at Mercedes-Benz, says:

“If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the one in the car. If all you know for sure is that one death can be prevented, then that’s your first priority.”

Which life would you choose?

According to a research that surveyed over 1,900 people, the majority of the participants reported that it would be ethically better for self-driving cars to sacrifice their occupants. In the same study, the majority also said that they will not buy self-driving cars that prioritise the safety of pedestrians over their own.

Everyone wants to prioritise one’s own safety. Car manufacturers prefer saving the occupants, the pedestrians prefer saving themselves, and nobody is interested in buying cars that do not prioritise the passengers’ safety.

This is confusing.

A simple and logical answer

Joe Mosier, the founder of Adsit and a Mercedes geek, makes it quite simple and logical:

“Car manufacturers have always prioritised the safety of the occupants. There is no point to have a discussion on it. The airbags, seat belt, traction control, accident avoidance systems, telematics, and all other safety features are meant to be for the safety of the driver. Cars do not have airbags in the bumper to safeguard the pedestrians.”

This makes one thing obvious.

If you are in a car — whether autonomous or human-driven — the safety of anyone sitting inside a car is the priority.

When as much as 94 per cent of road accidents are a result of a human error or choice, you have to give autonomous cars a go. This is what exactly incumbent US president Barack Obama said.

The simple strategy is to reduce the number of the road accidents is to decrease the human intervention in driving. The idea is to program autonomous cars in a way that nobody gets hurt.

Also Read: Infographic: The road to self-driving cars

One step at a time

For some manufacturers, it is far better to switch from manual to self-driving cars in steps than in one go. This will make everyone safe on and off the road, as it gives people the chance to get used to self-driving technology without totally giving up control to machines.

For example, Mercedes-Benz’ own E-Class focuses on semi-autonomy instead of going full-on driverless. The purpose is to make people used to the new technology with features like steering and drive pilot, radars, emergency stop assist, active brake assist and evasive steering assist, among other highlights — making use of sensors and machine learning to aid in defensive manoeuvres, but not totally taking over driving in normal situations.

While some manufacturers like Tesla are already touting full self-driving capability, other manufacturers are moving towards self-driving cars one-step at a time, adding features system-by-system so as to familiarise drivers with what automation can do. In the end, passenger and pedestrian safety are what count the most.

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