Google started their journey towards creating a fully autonomous vehicle in 2009 and since then other car manufacturers, including some tech heavyweights, have been hard at work creating autonomous driving systems of their own. Some of these companies include Tesla Motors, Audi, General Motors, Ford, Nissan, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and Intel.
These systems aim to take on part, or all of the driving responsibility in an effort to make the roads a safer place. Currently one of the biggest causes of car accidents is distracted driving. In the U.S. alone, 10 percent of all fatalities in 2016 were a result of distracted driving. This doesn't take into account the non-fatal incidents, which makes up a bigger portion of related accidents. A list of these distractions include texting and other phone related use, applying makeup, shaving, fiddling with the radio, smoking, sexual activity, and talking to other passengers or being distracted by children.
Autonomous systems will help make driving safer by removing human error from the equation. Simply put, computers don't get distracted and when they become increasingly more mainstream, these types of accidents will be reduced drastically.
Right now, insurers are trying to figure out who should be held liable if an autonomous car causes an accident. Is it the driver, the manufacturer of the car, or the company that developed the autonomous software? Bryant Walker Smith, a prominent legal authority on autonomous vehicles and law professor at the University of South Carolina, believes the blame will shift from the driver to the manufacturers and developers of autonomous systems.
This seems fitting since the person in the driver's seat isn't the one controlling the vehicle. Manufacturers need to take responsibility for the systems they place in their vehicles and should be liable for damages incurred from an accident when any such autonomous system is in use.
Smith wrote a publicly available research paper on autonomous driving and product liability in which he outlines various hypothetical cases where autonomous vehicles are involved in accidents, along with key questions pertaining to litigation. If you have a penchant for all things legal I suggest you read the 74 page paper.
One of the many interesting points Smith outlines in his paper is that post-accident investigations could become a thing of the past because of the large amount of data stored in the vehicle's computer detailing what happened up to and including the accident. This serves as somewhat of a dash cam and offers detailed information of what happened. This information would lead to an accurate analysis of the accident instead of relying on statements from the parties involved and the investigation done by the police.
How will this affect your car insurance?
If legislation changes in favour of placing the liability with manufacturers it'll be a landmark change for the vehicle industry. It would force a higher standard in automated vehicle production and development. This will likely raise the cost of the vehicle because of the highly technical nature of the systems incorporated into it. However, this shouldn't affect your car insurance too much because, as Smith mentions in his paper, an accident caused by an automated system becomes a case of product liability which falls on manufacturers to cover.
This puts them in the tough position of trying to calculate the cost of potential claims which they would likely factor into the vehicle's price. This is a tremendously difficult task because manufacturers have no way of accurately predicting the liability costs attributed to a single autonomous vehicle over its lifetime.
This is going to be a giant hurdle for both the vehicle and auto insurance industry to conquer. As it stands, insurance for vehicles with autonomous systems is in an uncertain state and all you can do as a consumer is wait until the legalities have been ironed out. But, on the surface, it looks like you may be in for cheaper premiums.