IP Track Meeting, 2017-2018: The ethics of self-driving cars

Kurt Lewin Instituut
Heidelberglaan 1
Room Number H1.42
The Netherlands
T: +31 (0)30 - 253 3027

IP Track Meeting, 2017-2018: The ethics of self-driving cars

Teaching staff
Dr. Jean- Francois Bonnefon (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), dr. Reine van der Wal (Utrecht University) and dr. Shaul Shalvi (University of Amsterdam).

Type of course
Theory-oriented Workshops

May 16, 2018

Utrecht University, room to be announced

1 day


Maximum number of participants

0.5 EC will be appointed for participation in the complete course.

Even if self-driving cars prove safer than conventional cars, their widespread adoption is imperiled by a moral challenge. If a crash is unavoidable and the car must decide whether to save its passengers or to save pedestrians, what should it do? Minimize casualties (even if it means harming its passengers), or protect its passengers at all costs (even if it means harming a greater number of pedestrians)? This dilemma creates a no-win situation for manufacturers of self-driving cars. Either they offer cars that protect their passengers at all costs, and they invite moral outrage (because people have a strong feeling that self-driving cars should minimize casualties impartially); or they offer cars that minimize casualties impartially, and they scare consumers away (because people want their own car to protect them first). Furthermore, regulators must anticipate psychological reactions to their recommendations about this issue, in order not to jeopardize the societal benefits expected of self-driving cars. Finally, the social acceptance of self-driving cars will depend on how cars and human drivers negotiate ethical dilemmas in the situations of shared control which will prevail until technology can deliver fully autonomous cars.

Dr. Jean-François Bonnefon is a Research Director at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France), with affiliations to the Toulouse School of Economics, the Center for Research in Management, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse. His research seeks to understand the psychology of rational thinking in the domains of reasoning, decision-making, and moral judgment. This work is inspired by cognitive and social psychology, as well as behavioral economics and evolutionary approaches to behavior. He serves as a Senior Associate Editor for the journal Cognition, as well as on three others editorial boards. His work appeared in 80+ journal articles, including publications in Science, Psychological Science, Psychological Review, and Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Teaching Forms
- Lectures by Prof. Bonnefon
- Research presentations by PhD students


Bonnefon, J. F., Shariff, A., & Rahwan, I. (2016). The social dilemma of autonomous vehicles. Science, 352, 1573-1576.


Awad, E., Kleiman-Weiner, M., Dsouza, S., Bonnefon, J. F., Shariff, A., Tenenbaum, J. B., and Rahwan, I. (working paper) Moral responsibility across levels of vehicle automation.

Rahwan, I., Shariff, A., & Bonnefon, J. F. (under review). Psychological obstacles to the adoption of self-driving cars.

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