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Communications of the ACM

Computing ethics

Ethics Omission Increases Gases Emission

wall of rear-view mirrors

A wall of rear-view mirrors at the entrance to Seat Pavilion in Volkswagen Group's Autostadt ("Car City") visitor attraction adjacent to the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.

Credit: GeorgiF / Shutterstock

The Volkswagen emissions scandal came to light in September 2015. The company installed software into millions of vehicles with diesel engines so that impressive emission readings would be recorded in laboratory conditions even though the reality is that the diesel engines do not comply with current emission regulations. Volkswagen is a global organization headquartered in Germany; its subsidiaries adhere to common policies and a corporate culture. This worldwide scandal broke first in the U.S. with ongoing investigation and legal action there and in other countries including Germany, Italy, and the U.K.

Combustion engines are the source of pollution and therefore have been subjected to emission control. The formation of NOx (nitrogen oxides) through combustion is a significant contributor to ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution that is a health risk. On this basis, the use of software to control emissions must be defined as safety critical for, if it fails or malfunctions, it can cause death or serious injury to people. There does not appear to be any acknowledgement of this across vehicle manufacturing.


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