Date of Award

5-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Civil Engineering

Committee Member

Mashrur Chowdhury, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Patrick Gerard

Committee Member

Catherine Mobley

Committee Member

Jennifer Ogle

Abstract

This thesis analyzes the important topic of pedestrian safety in a world of conventional vehicles, as well as the future changes brought about by autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles. Pedestrian safety has continued to decline with increased pedestrian fatalities since 2009, as people walk more and are more distracted by handheld devices. Further complications in solving the problem with pedestrian fatalities are exacerbated by the ethical concerns that come into play when programming a robot to make decisions that a human would have been responsible for in the past.

A literature review was conducted on pedestrian safety, ethics, and autonomous vehicles. To explore the ethical decision making of current drivers and road-users, specifically members of Generation Z, a group of Clemson students was surveyed and interviewed. The majority of the participants stated that they make their decisions based on situational factors and that ethics is not black and white. This is despite most of the respondents also being raised in religious households. However, the value of human life was upheld by 97% of the respondents. Despite the consistency in opinion on the importance of protecting human life, the respondents disagreed about which human life should be protected, the pedestrian or the passenger in an autonomous vehicle. This variation in opinions must be addressed as moral relativism collides with huge technological shifts. However, this study concludes with an optimistic outlook that we can address these issues through collaboration between the private and public sectors and private competition to create the safest and most ethical vehicles possible.

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