Bill Ford: Self-driving crash rules will be up to feds

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford told a Washington, D.C., audience on Monday that the federal and state governments will have to grapple with thorny issues about the ethics of self-driving cars before they can be rolled out for mass consumption on U.S. roadways.

Ford said developing the hardware and software that will be used to power self-driving cars, which his company has promised to do by 2021, is going to be easy compared to deciding what autonomous vehicles should do in the event of a life-or-death crash.

“The difficult piece is going to be all the enabling things around it. Things like ethics, things like regulations,” Ford said during an appearance at The Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.

“Ethics in the vehicle itself, i.e. does the vehicle make the decision to save you, the occupant, or to save 10 pedestrians if the right thing might be to hurt you the occupant,” he continued. “Those all have to be thought through and no one manufacturer is going to be able to program in one ethical equation that is different than the others. I mean, that would be chaos. And imagine the fun the trial lawyers would have with that too.”

Ford has said that it plans to build fully autonomous cars — without a steering wheel or brake or accelerator pedals — for use in ride-hailing or ride-sharing services by 2021.

Ford said governments will also have to address potential job losses for industries such as truck and cab drivers.

“While it might be a great benefit to society as a whole, there will be issues ... and how does society confront those issues?” he said. “For instance, there are three-and-a-half million truck drivers, if you have autonomous trucks ... how about all the Uber drivers, the Lyfts, deliveries on FedEx and UPS? I suppose it’s no different than a conversation around artificial intelligence, but it’s all coming. It’s really hard to find a place or a forum or an institution that seems to be thinking through all these ramifications in a way that’s coherent and provides some answers.”

Ford added: “If retraining has to be done, we need to start thinking about that now. And again that’s not something that I think any one individual company can do alone. This is something that I think governments need to be thinking about and decide what, if anything, they want to do about it.”

Ford said his company will look very different in the next five to 10 years if it meets it deadline to put self-driving cars on the road by 2021.

“We should be less capital intensive, less cyclical, much closer to the customer, and help cities sort out their issues,” he said. “We will be making vehicles. It’s something we do and we do well. But into those vehicles ... will be going lots of software, looks of connectivity. ... I think we’ll always be making vehicles. But how they behave, how they interact and who is in them may all be different.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing