Automotive Ethics

Automotive Ethics

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Automotive Ethics

Automotive ethics is a subject that is often over looked. Not many people tend to look at what is ethical in the automotive industry; most people are generally satisfied if they can get a good deal on a car. However, in reality, automotive ethics has an affect on how automobiles are made, what regulations the government puts on them, and their hazard on the environment. Before the engine was invented, life revolved around a much more complicated system of transportation. Much advancement in technology has been made to make the common lifestyle today much easier; a few examples are cellular telephones and onboard navigation systems in automobiles. Cellular telephones and navigation systems have become an everyday item, but nobody looks at the dangers that can have while operating a motor vehicle.

Before the invention of the modern day engine, lifestyles were completely different. Letters were sent by horse drawn wagons, people traveled by horses and other such animals, often taking an entire day to go twenty miles. The first direct injection fuel engine was not invented until 1923.[1] It only took a year before this engine was put into automobiles, making the lives of the general public much easier. The invention of the engine not only made it possible to travel by road, but also by water and air. Mail was no longer delivered by horses and families were able to travel from one place to another in less than an entire day. However, the affects of the modern day engine can be seen all over the world. Take Los Angeles for example; the city is filled with smog which is from the overcrowding of all the freeways with automobiles. Technology has escalated to a level where engines are no longer made by the working man. Now, engines can be made simply machines and computer based tools. However, these thought of simple ways of creating engines are not as easy as the first seemed. There are many positive and negative aspects of using technology to design engines.

A problem with building engines using computers and machines is that they put out far more pollution than workers creating them by hand. It may be cheaper than paying the workers, but then there still are many processes that companies must go through just to have the opportunity to use technological equipment. For example, companies must obtain waste permits in order to properly dispose of toxic waste.

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However, many companies tend to cut costs to increase their profit margin. One way the cut their cost is by cutting corners in the disposal of their waste. They opt not to go through the process of obtaining waste disposal permits and instead dump their waste without taking the necessary precautions and ignoring government regulations. This is where the ethical standpoint comes into play. It is easy to for a company to cut their costs and take the easy way out by not disposing of material properly. The government may not be watching them around the clock, but they should be able to practice proper ethics and do what is safe for the environment. Unfortunately, this is not the way the world goes; most companies tend to “look the other way” when it comes to saving money. Companies will go out of their way to save money. They don’t care about what happens to the environment, they’re more concerned with what is going on in their financial department.

Another disadvantage of using machines to build engines is that all the workers who used to build them by hand are out of jobs. This may not be a concern to manufacturers, but what about the impact it has on our economy? If a considerable percentage of the population is out of work, obviously there is going to be a disastrous effect on the economy. Whether or not manufacturers realize it at the time, laying-off employees indirectly has an impact on them as well. If our economy goes down, the number of customers for those automobiles will go down, leading to a decrease in prices, equating to a loss of profits for the manufacturers.

On the contrary, there are still some benefits of using machinery and technology to manufacture engines. The use of computer generated tools eliminates virtually all human error, making for greater precision and accuracy. Not only does it lessen human error, the cost of human labor is non-existent.

The main issue when referring to the technological advancements in auto ethics is the use of cellular telephones and DVD based navigation system. The main question at hand is whether or not cellular telephones should be legal to use while operating a motor vehicle and also if passengers should be allowed to have movies playing while the vehicle is running. It can be argued that outlawing the use of cellular phones is against the Constitution and falls under our first amendment right of freedom of speech. Cellular telephones have become a necessity in society today- they are way to carry business out of the office or to keep in touch with family all over the world at all times. No matter where you look, there is a person talking on a cellular telephone. The issue of DVD players in cars is another one at hand. This, however, does not play into any of our Constitutional rights. A video screen that is in the drivers view is definitely a hazard. Even if the driver is not always paying attention, he or she puts everyone on the road at risk the moment the screen is looked at.

Andrew Parkes, an employee of the Transport Research Laboratory, in Crowthorne, England and Victor Hooijmeijer of the Netherlands ran an experiment on the “Influence of the use of mobile phones on driver situation awareness.”

The driving performance of 15 subjects in a simulated road environment has been studied both with and without a hands-free telephone conversation. The performance indicators used were choice reaction time, braking profile, lateral position, speed, and situation awareness. The driving task was relatively easy, and the young drivers studied were able to have a hands-free telephone conversation and perform well with respect to lateral position, the variation in lateral position of the car, and speed maintenance. However, significant differences were found in choice reaction time, especially in the beginning stages of the telephone conversation, and in situation awareness. The subjects reacted significantly slower to an unexpected event in the first two minutes of the telephone conversation and were, for a large part of the telephone conversation, unaware of traffic movements around them.[2]

A survey in the United States has revealed that the vast majority (84%) of mobile phone users believe that using a phone is a distraction and increases the likelihood of an accident. The same respondents report however that 61% of them use their mobile phones while driving and around 30% use their phone frequently or fairly often. Since mobile phone use I cars is a relatively new phenomenon, and since the effects of mobile phone use on traffic safety are still unclear, laws regarding this subject very between different countries. Some countries use a mixture of legislation and recommendation, but are not consistent about the difference in hands-free and hand-held phone use. For example; in Italy only hands-free phones are allowed by law during driving. At the same time, however, the use of equipment that restricts the hearing senses (which presumably includes all types of mobile phones) is prohibited. The same situation exists in Spain, whereas in Portugal, Denmark, and Hungary only hand-held use of mobile phones is prohibited by law. Outside Europe, a hand-held prohibition exists in Israel, Malaysia, and some states of the United States. Only recently, The Netherlands instated a law on using handheld mobiles while driving. A driver has been found guilty causing an accident because she was having a phone conversation. It is likely that other countries will develop case law in this way even if legislation does not exist. [3]

Eighty Four percent of the United States’ population believes that the act of talking on a phone is a distraction and increases the chances of getting into an accident. Yet, these people still do it. Ethical decisions definitely need to be made as to whether the use of cell phones should be permissible while operating a motor vehicle.

Many tests have been done by Parkes and Hooijmeijer comparing reactions times, steady speed, and common observatory skills while driving and talking on the phone at the same time.

As you can see from the table, drivers that were not on having a phone conversation had a faster reaction time to the green squares than did those that were talking on the phone. The first green square required the drivers to flash their lights twice when they saw it; they were put through it twice. The red square represented a danger on the road, and the drivers were expected to make an emergency stop. The driver that was not talking on the telephone stopped five hundredths of a second faster than the one that was talking on the phone. In a real emergency situation, those five hundredths of a second could determine whether or not a fatal accident occurs.

Another test that was done was a “Situation Awareness” test. In this test, drivers were asked three questions at two fixed locations during the simulations. The questions were as followed:
Can you tell me what other traffic was surrounding you just before I stopped the simulation?
Can you tell me what the color of the car that was in your rear-view mirror?
Was the care in your rear-view mirror driving faster than you or not?

Performances on the situation awareness task with and without phone conversation (Location 1)

No. of Correct answers; Location 1 Without Phone Conversation With Phone Conversation

Question 1

Question 2 14 6

Question 3 13 6

As you can see from the table above, when asked questions about awareness, drivers that were on the phone were able to sufficiently less questions than those that were not on the phone. Most drivers were not even able to tell the color of the car in their rear-view mirror; this goes to show that talking on a cellular phone while driving impairs your awareness to you surroundings. This impairment has the potential to have a catastrophic effect on the driver and all the other people on the road.

Now the ethical decision must come into play. We have established that drivers who are talking on cellular phones are obviously distracted; we have also now proved that their reaction time in emergency situations is significantly slower. Yet the argument still stands that using a telephone while driving is a Constitutional right that we have. What about the right for people to feel safe on the road? If a person sees another driver talking on a cellular telephone while driving 75 miles per hour down the freeway, he or she will generally tend to feel a bit worried. Some people would argue that it is not the use of telephone that distracts drivers, it is the fact that the have to hold the phone up to their ear. However, this is not the case. The drivers tested were using hands free telephones and their reactions were still slower. This goes to prove that it is not the act of holding the phone with one hand that distracts the driver, it is the fact that no human can fully concentrate on two separate tasks simultaneously. As people who claim to value ethics greatly, how can we object to the banning of cell phone usage while driving? Indirectly, many lives would be saved if people paid more attention on the road. Isn’t the human life more important than a business deal or a social conversation with a friend?

The professional issues at hand are those against the Cellular phone companies and the consumers who use them while driving. Obviously the phone companies are in favor of drivers talking on the phone. If the government decides to make a law that bans the use of cell phones while driving, the number of cell phone consumers is sure to decrease, causing the Cellular providers to lose business. From the data charts it’s easy to see that cellular phones cause a great distraction on drivers. With all this data, legal issues need to be put into affect. The only reason they have not been is because there are opposing legal issues-such as First Amendment Rights.

There are many stakeholders at hand. All the people that are driving on the road when somebody is talking on the phone are stakeholders. They’re lives are at danger and they don’t even know it. Everybody on the road is affected by the decision the government makes. Other stakeholders are the consumers of mobile phones and the Cellular providers. The consumers will lose their right to use their phones while driving. If consumers are not able to use their phones while driving, there is a good chance that the demand for cellular pones will decrease, causing the providers to lose their business.

There are no real solutions to this dilemma. Yes, the use of cellular phones is a danger while on the road. However, it is also a Constitutional right. A solution to this would be to have designated areas where drivers can pull over to use their phones instead of driving and talking at the same time. If there were assigned areas every few miles on the freeways where drivers could pull over to use their phones, everybody else would be much safer. This solution seems to be fair to both parties. The consumers would still be on the road, they would just have to stop off to make their call and other drivers can feel safe because there is not anybody driving and talking on the phone at the same time. This option is also good for the phone providers because they will not be losing any business. Drivers will still be able to use phones on the road as long as they are stopped.

After reviewing all the different aspects of this dilemma, it just seems ethically and morally wrong for drivers to be using cellular phones while driving automobiles. There is efficient evidence to support that driving and talking on a cellular phone is unsafe- it slows down reaction times, causes you to lose ability to maintain speed, and not have the ability to coherently understand what is going on in your surroundings. The idea to have designated shoulders on the road where drivers can pull over to use their cell phones seems to work out in the favor of everybody. Not only will drivers still have the ability to use their phones to conduct business or have personal conversations, but they will be able to do so without putting other lives in danger.


1.Colombo, Angelo The History of the Engine was shaped by Man (September 2003)

2. Cuaresma, Alfredo The Safety Issues Concerning Automobiles (March 1, 2003)

3. Parkes, Andrew The influence of the use of mobile phones on driver situation awareness
Transport Research Laboratory, Crowthorne, England.

[1] The History of the Engine was Shaped by MAN by Angelo Colombo (September 2003)

[2] The Use of Mobile Phones on Driver Situation Awareness by Andrew Parkes (2000)-

[3] The Use of Mobile Phones on Driver Situation Awareness Andrew Parkes (2000)-
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