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Drivers are blamed more than their automated cars when both make mistakes


When an automated car harms someone, who is blamed by those who hear about it? Here we asked human participants to consider hypothetical cases in which a pedestrian was killed by a car operated under shared control of a primary and a secondary driver and to indicate how blame should be allocated. We find that when only one driver makes an error, that driver is blamed more regardless of whether that driver is a machine or a human. However, when both drivers make errors in cases of human–machine shared-control vehicles, the blame attributed to the machine is reduced. This finding portends a public under-reaction to the malfunctioning artificial intelligence components of automated cars and therefore has a direct policy implication: allowing the de facto standards for shared-control vehicles to be established in courts by the jury system could fail to properly regulate the safety of those vehicles; instead, a top-down scheme (through federal laws) may be called for.

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Fig. 1: Actions or action sequences for the different car types considered.
Fig. 2: Blame ratings for user and industry in six car types.
Fig. 3: Representation of demographic attributes in Study 5.
Fig. 4: Ratings of demographic subgroups in Study 5.

Data availability

Raw data and source data for Figs. 24, Table 1 and Supplementary Fig. 1 are available at

Code availability

Code used to produce figures and tables in this article is available at


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I.R., E.A., S.L. and S.D. acknowledge support from the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund. J.-F.B. acknowledges support from the ANR-Labex Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, the ANR-3IA Artificial and Natural Intelligence Toulouse Institute and grant no. ANR-17-EURE-0010 from Investissements d’Avenir. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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E.A., S.L., M.K.-W., S.D., J.B.T., A.S., J.-F.B. and I.R. contributed to the conception and design of the research. E.A., S.L., M.K.-W. and S.D. conducted studies. E.A. and J.-F.B. analysed data. S.L., E.A., M.K.-W., J.-F.B. and I.R. wrote the manuscript. All authors reviewed and revised the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Joshua B. Tenenbaum or Azim Shariff or Jean-François Bonnefon or Iyad Rahwan.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Primary Handling Editor: Mary Elizabeth Sutherland

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Supplementary Fig. 1 and Supplementary Methods.

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Awad, E., Levine, S., Kleiman-Weiner, M. et al. Drivers are blamed more than their automated cars when both make mistakes. Nat Hum Behav 4, 134–143 (2020).

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