The challenge of insuring driverless cars
The introduction of autonomous cars will have big implications for insurance – potentially including larger premiums for owners, and more court battles to decide whether a driver or manufacturer is at fault in the case of an accident.
As responsibility for safety turns from the person behind the wheel towards autonomous car manufacturers, it introduces new scenarios for accident claims – including crashes caused if vehicles or infrastructure are hacked, or when software updates are not applied properly by vehicle owners.
The UK government has introduced the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which includes legislation to simplify the insurance process and cut red tape to make it easier for autonomous technology to be introduced on British roads.
The bill prioritises consumers, and focuses on a single insurance policy that covers both driver and vehicle. Its aim is to put more focus on manufacturers and software developers being liable for compensation payments in the event of an accident. It also aims to speed up compensation after an accident.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “We must ensure that the public is protected in the event of an accident, and today we are introducing the framework to allow insurance for these new technologies.”
The bill was welcomed by Insurance firm AXA. “This is a positive step that provides clarity to insurers to ensure we design our products appropriately,” said Head of Underwriting David Williams. “It keeps protection of the public at its heart, which we hope will encourage early adoption of some really impressive technology.”
However, there have been concerns that the measures will dramatically increase insurance bills for the drivers of autonomous cars – especially early adopters, who will share roads with semi-autonomous and standard human-driven vehicles, using an autonomous road infrastructure and vehicle technology that is still being developed.
“There’s already a lot of debate about who is liable for accidents in driverless cars,” AA president Edmund King told The Times. “Is it the driver? Is it the vehicle manufacturer? Or is it the authority maintaining the road layout? It now appears that the onus is going to be on the driver to get insurance that covers all outcomes. In the short-term, at least, that’s going to mean big premiums.”