A five-step ethical decision-making model for self-driving vehicles: Which (ethical) theories could guide the process and what values need further investigation?


  • Franziska Poszler Technical University of Munich
  • Maximilian Geisslinger Technical University of Munich
  • Christoph Lütge Technical University of Munich


self-driving vehicle, autonomous driving, ethical decision-making, risk distributions


By choosing a specific trajectory (especially in accident situations), self-driving vehicles (SDVs) will implicitly distribute risks among traffic participants and induce the determination of traffic victims. Acknowledging the normative significance of SDVs’ programming, policymakers and scholars have conceptualized what constitutes ethical decision-making for SDVs. Based on these insights and requirements formulated in contemporary literature and policy drafts, this article proposes a five-step ethical decision model for SDVs during hazardous situations. In particular, this model states a clear sequence of steps, indicates the guiding (ethical) theories that inform each step, and points out a list of values that need further investigation. This model, although not exhaustive and resolute, aims to contribute to the scholarly debate on computational ethics (especially in the field of autonomous driving) and serves practitioners in the automotive sector by providing a decision-making process for SDVs during hazard situations that approximates compliance with ethical theories, shared principles and policymakers’ demands. In the future, assessing the actual impact, effectiveness and admissibility of implementing the here sketched theories, values and process requires an empirical evaluation and testing of the overall decision-making model.