Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 59–82 | Cite as

Self-driving Cars in Dilemmatic Situations: An Approach Based on the Theory of Justification in Criminal Law

Original Paper


This article puts forward solutions to some of the ethical and legal dilemmas posed in the current discussion on how to program crash algorithms in autonomous or self-driving cars. The first part of the paper defines the scope of the problem in the criminal legal field, and the next section gives a critical analysis of the proposal to always prioritise the interest of the occupant of the vehicle in situations with conflict of interests. The principle of minimizing social damage as a model for configuring self-driving cars is examined in the third section. Despite its apparent plausibility, within the framework of a liberal legal system that recognises humans as free agents who have rights and responsibilities, maximizing the function of social utility does not justify harmful interference into a person’s legal sphere. Therefore, in the fourth part, the author argues the need to program the crash algorithms of autonomous cars based on a deontological understanding of the system of justifications in criminal law. The solution to the dilemma lies in a prior analysis of the legal positions of all agents involved in the conflict, from a perspective of the principles of autonomy and solidarity as the core of the system of justifications.


Autonomous car Self-driving car Driverless car Crash-algorithms Trolley problem Justification Autonomy Solidarity Self-defence Necessity Choice-of-evils Collision of duties Utilitarianism ethics Deontological ethics 



This work was funded by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Government of Spain, within the frame of the project entitled: “La traslación de la teoría del delito al Derecho penal económico” (Ref.: DER2013-41252-P).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Strafrecht und StrafprozessrechtAlbert-Ludwigs-Universität FreiburgFreiburg Im BreisgauGermany

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