Autopilot Seems Great, But What Will It Mean for Your Insurance?
If you’re like many motorists, then you can’t wait for the self-driving future. It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to savor the last few moments of liberty before going to work or hoping to appreciate the scenery on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation: Autopilot technologies promise to help you make the most of your time.
Self-driving and semi-autonomous vehicles get further away from science fiction and closer to your garage every day. In the process, however, they’re raising some critical questions about vehicle ownership, and no, we’re not just talking about whether you should let your friends try the cool voice-activation features.
For many drivers, the biggest puzzle is what autopilot will mean for their insurance policies, premiums and payouts. Here’s what you need to know.
Insurance in the Age of Automobile Autonomy
If you’re looking to state insurance regulators for quick answers about the impacts that autonomous vehicles might have on your policy, good luck. The technology hasn’t been freely deployed on many real roads yet, so it’s impossible to say just what the future might hold. Where can you turn for insights? It may be helpful to start with a functional understanding of how insurance currently operates.
Basic Insurance Philosophy
Insurance is a form of collective protection designed to serve the needs of as many people as possible at once. Not all drivers will have accidents during their lifetimes, but it’s impossible to tell who will and who won’t. Instead of playing a dangerous game with completely uncertain odds, insurance lets people pay into a system that covers those unfortunate enough to experience wrecks.
Fault and the Future
Insurance works well because having everyone contribute ensures that no single individual has to bear the entire burden of repair costs or medical bills. To make the system fairer, however, state laws consider factors such as who caused an accident to determine who should be held liable. Insurers use these factors to decide whether and how much to pay accident survivors.
With autopilot, the problem is that it’s extremely hard to tell who deserves the blame. When humans aren’t actually doing the driving, policy providers must consider other factors.
The Realities of Autopilot
According to automakers, autopilot tech is great because it can save lives. For instance, Tesla’s Elon Musk asserted that autopilot could cut accident rates down to one-tenth of their current levels. Tesla claimed that its vehicles had a much better track record than conventional cars, with one death for every 320 million miles driven instead of the typical one death per 86 million miles. Musk, also noted, however, that autopilot tech would never achieve total perfection. Sadly, early accidents seem to reinforce this reality.
Examining Real Accident Cases
Tesla says its autopilot system should only be used by drivers who also keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel in case something goes wrong. In one fatality case, the company laid the blame on a driver who failed to follow these precautions.
One notorious 2018 incident saw an Uber vehicle kill a 49-year-old woman while operating in autonomous mode. This was another case where the driver wasn’t paying attention, but technology observers claimed that the car’s AI should have easily avoided the collision.
Widespread Fault Possibilities
With autopilot still in its infancy, what can insurance consumers learn from these incidents? Understand that the law is still evolving. It may be unwise to rely on courts, especially if you’re hoping for a payout after a wreck.
Throwing self-driving cars into the mix during a collision case only heightens the potential for confusion. Should a vehicle’s safety driver be responsible for not taking over in time? Could the companies that program the AI software be held liable for damages if the system fails or has a bug? What about when drivers disable their autopilot’s safety features?
Judges, law enforcement officials and juries will probably struggle to answer these questions for some time to come. While they’re coming to their decision, it’s best for motorists to stay proactive. Pay attention to how your policies change, and try to find providers who are willing to accommodate the advanced technology in your vehicle. Why not keep yourself in the loop by talking to one of our policy experts today?