Is it ethical to not use safety technology which could save human lives?

I still can’t believe that they are gone and won’t ever come back.

The circumstances that led to their deaths, and the way that fighting for safer roads has taken over my life, make it all seem so unreal.

Oh, sure, there are big chunks of normal everyday life. But overall, there is a sense that something is very wrong with this world and how can I ever go back to thinking otherwise?

I wrote those words last night in an effort to grapple with the aching grief.

As I reflect more upon that dilemma, I think that it stems from a kind of raging helplessness, an inability to change that which callously tosses aside the value of human life and is able to do so because there is always someone else at whom to point the finger of blame or to expect to shoulder the responsibility to do something about the problem.

So the end result, for the embittered mourner, may be that there is no easily-identified enemy to fight. Victory is elusive. Intangible. Slippery. If a battle is won, too often loopholes appear or the victory has come only through compromise.

And why should that be? Why don’t we place a higher value on saving human life from preventable, senseless deaths? Is compromise the only option?

Is it because of a lurking attitude of c’est la vie, que sera sera — that’s life, whatever will be , will be?

Until it touches your life. Then you’ll understand. Then it will be too late.

Car Safety Wars

Writing this because I miss them. . .

Note: After writing the above, I looked to see what I could find online regarding the ethics of saving human lives related to road safety. [My search terms were: Is it ethical to not use safety technology to save human lives?] I found an interesting essay on the topic, Saving lives in road traffic—ethical aspects, and am pasting the concluding remarks from that article here:

I would like to end this overview of ethical problem areas in traffic safety with some concluding thoughts on how these five ethical topics can be included and inform policy.

Criminalisation

Attempts should be made to analyse the problem at hand carefully and as open-mindedly as possible before rushing to the conclusion that the best way to reduce or eliminate an unwanted and harmful behaviour is to criminalise and punish. Alternatives should be considered and creativity in problem solving encouraged. A good example is drunk driving where the alcohol interlock is a device worth considering as an alternative or at least additional measure to punishment.

Paternalism

Most measures to increase safety in road traffic can be motivated by the notion of protecting others against harm, which means that even a liberal can endorse them. However, there are some measures where the most beneficial to society may be to ignore it, for example motorcyclists not wearing a helmet, but where most people still believe society should protect individuals against harm by legislation or technology. It should be acknowledged that this is the case, and it would be helpful to carefully analyse and discuss new measures, keeping in mind the distinction between harming others and harming oneself. In some cases, most people share an intuition that a measure is justifiable even though it is paternalistic, but in other cases paternalistic measures appear unjustifiable. By acknowledging and discussing such issues freely and publicly we make sure that new laws and technologies are at least closer to being ethically justifiable.

Privacy

There appears to be a fundamental difference between privacy in our own homes and privacy on the road. The reasons we are equally attached to the notion of privacy in our cars as we are to privacy in our homes are tradition, culture and habits. We should recognise that the great degree of risk-exposure associated with driving may imply that the expectation of privacy on the road is not reasonable.

Justice

A humane society protects vulnerable human beings. A humane infrastructure protects vulnerable road users, for example children, the elderly and disabled people. This implies that we should not count their lives or the quality of their lives less than others. It may even mean that additional attention should be directed at protecting such groups. A minimal requirement should be that potential damaging effects on vulnerable groups should always be taken into account when planning infrastructural projects.

Responsibility

The traditional view of responsibility for traffic safety is closely attached to the notion that safety is about individuals driving safely and that accidents are caused by drivers. While this is true to some extent, the emerging view that a major role can and should be played by institutions, for example governments and vehicle-producing companies, is useful and reasonable. The implied notion is that responsibility has to be distributed and shared between different actors if a safer road traffic environment is to be achieved.

People in industrialised societies are so used to road traffic that it is almost considered a part of nature. Consequently, we do not acknowledge that we can introduce change and that we can affect the role we have given road traffic and cars. By acknowledging the ethical aspects of road traffic and illuminating the way the choices society makes are ethically charged, it becomes clear that there are alternative ways to design the road traffic system. The most important general conclusion is that discussion concerning these alternative ways of designing the system should be encouraged. Here are some examples of questions to address in public debates:

  • What are the reasons for prohibiting certain behaviour or requiring a certain safety device—to protect the individual from herself, to protect others or to save money? Which of these reasons are valid?
  • Should society criminalise unsafe behaviour or use technology (when possible) to eliminate the unwanted behaviour?
  • To what extent is it reasonable to expect privacy on the road?
  • Should additional measures be used to protect vulnerable road users?
  • Should safety be seen as the result of individuals behaving responsibly or the system designers designing safe systems?

Saving lives in road traffic—ethical aspects

1Department of Philosophy, Delft University of Technology, P.O. Box 5015, 2600 GA Delft, The Netherlands
2Division of Philosophy, Royal Institute of Technology, Teknikringen 78B, SE-100 44 Stockholm, Sweden
Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist, Phone: +46-739-853215, ln.tfledut@tsiuqlhaf-nelhin.a.j.

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