Earlier this year at the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas, Bill Ford said out loud what a lot of people in the auto industry were thinking–or, more precisely, worrying about more than they care to admit. The Ford CEO was talking about the advent of driverless vehicles, a topic that’s getting a lot of ink these days as every automaker and some of the biggest players in Silicon Valley pour billions of dollars into the development of “naked” robotic cars (so-called Tier 5 autonomous vehicles, or AVs, without steering wheels or pedals).

Engineering the autos will be the easy part, Ford said, because the technology is ramping up quickly. More daunting, though, will be deciding how to program autonomous cars to make life-and-death decisions. “If a vehicle has to choose who does it hit (if it is about to be in an accident), does it save the occupant or 10 pedestrians? Those are all decisions that you and I as drivers don’t have time to make, we just react. But these vehicles will have the processing capability to actually choose the outcome. And if the outcome is that it chooses to crash you, the occupant, are you going to get into that vehicle?”

Although Ford tweaked the auto industry by posing this problem publicly, it echoed a line of thinking already common among American car buyers. In a survey conducted earlier this year, AAA found that three-quarters of motorists said they fear riding in a self-driving auto and 54% of respondents said that they would feel less safe sharing the road with an AV. And once Ford let the issue out of the bag, a few others in the AV world began to stretch it to its…

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