Driving in the Dark: Designing Autonomous Vehicles for Reducing Light Pollution

Science and Engineering Ethics 26 (1):387-403 (2020)
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Abstract

This paper proposes that autonomous vehicles should be designed to reduce light pollution. In support of this specific proposal, a moral assessment of autonomous vehicles more comprehensive than the dilemmatic life-and-death questions of trolley problem-style situations is presented. The paper therefore consists of two interrelated arguments. The first is that autonomous vehicles are currently still a technology in development, and not one that has acquired its definitive shape, meaning the design of both the vehicles and the surrounding infrastructure is open-ended. Design for values is utilized to articulate a path forward, by which engineering ethics should strive to incorporate values into a technology during its development phase. Second, it is argued that nighttime lighting—a critical supporting infrastructure—should be a prima facie consideration for autonomous vehicles during their development phase. It is shown that a reduction in light pollution, and more boldly a better balance of lighting and darkness, can be achieved via the design of future autonomous vehicles. Two case studies are examined through which autonomous vehicles may be designed for “driving in the dark.” Nighttime lighting issues are thus inserted into a broader ethics of autonomous vehicles, while simultaneously introducing questions of autonomous vehicles into debates about light pollution.

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