More Than Trolleys

Plausible, Ethically Ambiguous Scenarios Likely to Be Encountered by Automated Vehicles

in Transfers
Noah Goodall Senior Research Scientist, Virginia Transportation Research Council, USA

Search for other papers by Noah Goodall in
Current site
Google Scholar
Restricted access


As the act of driving becomes increasingly automated, vehicles will encounter situations where different objectives of safety, mobility, and legality will come into conflict. These situations require a vehicle to compare relative values of different entities and objectives, where the action of the vehicle has a moral component. While discussion of these scenarios often focuses on the “trolley problem” thought experiment, these types of life-or-death moral dilemmas may be rare in practice. This article identifies four far more common examples of routine driving that require decisions with some level of ethical reasoning about how to distribute risk. These scenarios may be useful for automated vehicle developers in assessing vehicle safety and responding to potential future regulations, as well as for regulators in developing performance requirements.

Contributor Notes

Noah Goodall is a Senior Research Scientist with the Virginia Transportation Research Council. He has a PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Virginia and is a licensed engineer in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He published the first peer-reviewed article on the ethics of vehicle automation and is a member of the Transportation Research Board Standing Committee on Vehicle-Highway Automation. Email:

  • Collapse
  • Expand


Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 814 287 22
Full Text Views 50 6 1
PDF Downloads 69 5 0