An accident that occurred in Tempe, Arizona last month, which involved a driverless Uber car, has brought an interesting debate about liability to the forefront of the industry’s mind.
Since self-driving cars are a fairly new invention, there is no precedent as to who would be liable should a self-driving vehicle be caught up in a road traffic accident.
Billionaire tycoon Warran Buffet, who owns the insurance company Geico, when speaking to NBC admitted that, if driverless vehicles were ever to become the norm, it would hurt Geico immensely.
His thinking is that, if a car is autonomous, drivers should no longer need to take out their own insurance policy.
As you will probably know, right car insurance premiums are calculated based on an individual driver’s risk, with drivers who are in a ‘safer’ demographic, who have not needed to make a claim before can take advantage of much lower premiums than those who are seen as a bigger risk. This model will almost certainly have to change when insuring driverless vehicles, transferring more of the burden of liability towards the automotive makers in the future.
Many experts have gone on the record to state their belief that driverless vehicles will actually reduce human error and make it safer for everyone on the road. Currently, 90 percent of automotive accidents are caused by human error, so this could well be the case. However, insurers will also need to take into account mechanical faults and the likelihood that they will cause accidents.
The Insurance Information Institute’s chief actuary, James Lynch, says that if self-driving vehicle manufacturers have to bear the whole cost of insuring their products, it would create a massive long-term expenditure for them, which would act as a disincentive to further develop driverless technology, and since it could make the roads a whole lot safer, this would be a big mistake.
This puts governments wherever driverless cars will be launched, into a quandary as to what to do about insurance. It might be that both manufacturer’s and ‘drivers’ of autonomous vehicles will be jointly responsible when there’s an accident, and insurance companies and dedicated car accident lawyers will have to shift their current business models to accommodate this, but that poses another problem – how much liability should be assigned to each party?
It may be that each state will have to hash out its own regulations regarding this, but it seems that there is no easy solution and there is likely to be a lot of playing it by ear before the perfect system for ensuring self-driving cars is hit upon.
It is also likely that more cases of vehicle collisions involving driverless cars will have to be decided in court, at least in the early days, so that blame can accurately be established. This will help everyone from the insurers and the lawyers to the car manufacturers to gather more data, work out kinks in the system and ensure that the future of car insurance is fairer for all concerned.