Trust and the ethics of Connected and Automated Vehicles

  Authors: Kate Francis, Vito Pavese, Anastasia Botsi

As is the case with the vast majority of new and emerging technologies, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) have a significant potential to positively impact society. Once widely adopted, CAVs may contribute to reducing automotive accidents and consequently, fatalities.[1]For example, in the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that a whopping 94% of serious traffic incidents are the result of human error,[2] something which could be avoided in an autonomous and driverless future. Autonomous Vehicles can also help to better the efficiency of transportation and reduce emissions, they even have the potential to improve accessibility.[3]The benefits of CAVs, however, do not come without highly relevant concerns which must be resolved to foster trust on the part of human users.

Trust is a fundamental precondition for a fair and sustainable Internet of Vehicles landscape and is widely regarded as a prerequisite for technological uptake.[4]It, therefore, comes as no surprise that new and emerging technologies like CAVs bring with them not only technical difficulties, but also ethical, legal, and more generally, societal questions. Can I trust an autonomous vehicle? Who will my data be shared with? Can hackers cause collisions? Whose life will the CAV save in a situation where at least one fatality is inevitable? Will taxi drivers lose their jobs? How do I know that my children are safe going to school in an autonomous shuttle?

In recent years, a great deal of attention has been paid to ethical aspects of data processing activities and more specifically, of technologies and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Such attention is not only warranted but necessary as our lives are ever-more connected. With specific reference to CAV ethics, the work of the European Commission's Horizon 2020 Commission Expert Group (EG) to advise on specific ethical issues raised by driverless mobility[5] is particularly useful. In 2020, the EG published a report that "aims to promote a safe and responsible transition to connected and automated vehicles…by supporting stakeholders in the systematic inclusion of ethical considerations in the development and regulation of CAVs." [6]The report provides 20 ethical recommendations for CAVs, which range from privacy, data protection, and data security, to safety concerns to questions of fairness and transparency, to responsibility and liability,[7]all of which can be linked to trustworthiness, and provides an important contribution to the understanding of ethics in the emerging IoV field. Along these lines, the authors of the report underline the role that ethics and the inclusion of social issues in the development of CAVs plays in fostering trust.[8] In order to bridge this gap, the nIoVe project has actively considered relevant stakeholder requirements, including those of passengers and pedestrians, automotive manufacturers, smart city administrators, and public transportation authorities, in a concrete attempt to build user needs and concerns into the nIoVe technology itself and promote a trustworthy cybersecurity framework for the Internet of Vehicles.

While current European legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation and the ePrivacy Directive provide safeguards for citizens and drivers when it comes to data processing and data security minimum standards in the CAV context, it is vital that also ethics and notions of fairness are built into these vehicles by design in order to promote trust. An adequate and complete understanding of the ethical complexities of the CAV ecosystem and a true "by design" approach that encompasses notions of fairness, transparency, and human rights in addition to data protection, privacy, and data security, will permit CAV developers to ensure that their vehicles are not only safe and secure, but fair, transparent, and fully benefit society.


[1]  European Commission, New recommendations for a safe and ethical transition towards driverless mobility, 18 September 2020,

[2]  NHTSA, Benefits of Automation

[3]  European Commission, New recommendations for a safe and ethical transition towards driverless mobility, 18 September 2020,

[4]  See, e.g., Bahmanziari, T., Pearson, J. & Crosby, L. (2003). Is trust important in technology adoption? A policy capturing approach. Journal of Computer Information Systems. 43. 46-54; Mcknight, D., Carter, Michelle & Thatcher, Jason & Clay, Paul. (2011). Trust in a specific technology: An Investigation of its Components and Measures. ACM Transactions on Management Information Systems. 2. 12-32, 10.1145/1985347.1985353.

[5]  Horizon 2020 Commission Expert Group to advise on specific ethical issues raised by driverless mobility (E03659). Ethics of Connected and Automated Vehicles: recommendations on road safety, privacy, fairness, explainability, and responsibility. 2020. Publication Office of the European Union: Luxembourg.

[6]  Ibid p. 4.

[7]  Ibid p. 5.

[8]  Ibid p. 16.

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