The automotive industry is continuously evolving at a rapid pace. Lately, people have been showing a lot of interest in self-driving car technology. Over the past few years, the emerging innovative technology has been of great assistance in developing autonomous cars which will likely be commercially available in the market within the next decade. Many automotive companies are largely experimenting with the semi-automated driving technology for their respective vehicles. And although it’s still at an emerging stage, it won’t be long until we see some of these zooming across the roads worldwide.
The technology itself has been out there for more than 2 decades and has definitely progressed in its own right. The tech is commonly referred to as ‘adaptive cruise control’ which assists in maintaining significant distance between your car and the vehicles that are ahead of you, using a radar. With this technology in place, the self driving vehicles will automatically determine when the car should slow down or speed up depending on the distance data generated.
The adaptive cruise control was at one point very expensive and only rolled out with exclusive models, particularly luxury vehicles. Today however, you can find this technology in many affordable cars like Toyota which now has this technology as a standard for their Corolla model. However, as the adaptive cruise control technology is emerging, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) internationally classifies autonomous capabilities of a vehicle with 6 levels:
Where the human driver takes full control on vehicles without any external input or control.
Where driving assistance systems or adaptive cruise control is applied to the vehicles. The human driver is still required to be in control of the steering wheel.
Where the human driver is permitted some ‘hands-off’ driving but is still required to be alert in order to take control in certain circumstances. For a few of the Level 2 cars, even when the autonomous driving option is active, the human driver is expected to keep his/her hands on the steering wheel.
Where the human driver is allowed to indulge in ‘hands-off driving and human intervention is only required whenever alerted by the car itself.
Where no human driver attention is required but still requires physical intervention in case of an emergency and unusual circumstances.
Where driving is fully automated and no human intervention is required. The only input required is the mention of the intended destination which has to be entered by the driver. In this case, there is no requirement for a steering wheel, brake and gas pedals.
What you see on the road today are mostly Level 2 autonomous vehicles. The application of hands-off driving may vary for each manufacturer. Automotive companies have been on a tight race in developing the robot car autonomy and taking it to the next level.
The question that now arises here is whether or not any insurance company would cover such autonomous technology?
On paper, you can significantly eliminate the human error possibility by driving vehicles with Level 5 autonomy abilities. Basically, when the ride is mostly safe, the accident rates will certainly be lower which in turn, make claims lower. In such a condition, there is no need to take a higher premium for your auto insurance. However, lower insurance premiums are likely to affect the profit figures of the insurance companies.
There are some who believe that autonomous vehicles will result in the fall of the auto insurance industry. But it’s still too early to predict such a scenario primarily because autonomous technology takes care of human-error related accidents. It does not take care of other non-driving related incidents like a stolen or vandalized vehicle and natural calamities like earthquakes, flood, etc. As long as car ownership by a human driver exists, auto insurance will always be required.
Who will take responsibility if a Level 5 autonomous vehicle crashes?
This is not only a crucial question but also a dilemma. The vehicle manufacturer should take the responsibility at some point. However, the car owner may share the responsibility if human factors such as poor maintenance, etc. are proven to be the triggering factors in the crashes/accidents. Poor maintenance of mechanical parts including the braking system or simply bald tires can lead to accidents. The autonomous vehicles aren’t going to be maintenance-free. This complication will need to be discussed further and the solution embodied in official laws. The subsequent self driving car insurance for the autonomous vehicle may also depend on how the officials regulate it.
Additionally, the autonomous vehicles will at some point, need to co-exist with human drivers. Instead of completely replacing manual driving, self driving cars would have to share the same road with human drivers for many years to come. There are millions of registered manual driving vehicles on the road. In fact, only a few automotive companies focus on commercial autonomous technology. With the exception of a small number of manufacturer models for robot-autonomy testing, all of the other vehicles are still and will be human-operated.
Even in the initial years of fully autonomous driving technology adoption, the existing human-operated vehicles won’t just become obsolete altogether. Similar scenario to how the adaptive cruise control has been out there for more than 20 years and is still being used in just limited car models. Also, this autonomous driving technology will surely get cheaper as it would be used in a wider range of vehicles, eventually making them more affordable.
Self-driving cars seem like something plucked right out of a science-fiction book or movie, but in fact it’s already a reality with many countries adopting the use of these pilotless vehicles, including the UAE. Don’t be surprised if in the very near future, you see self-driving cars in abundance out and about on the streets, shuttling passengers from Point A to Point B. And with this advancement in automotive technology, insurance policies will also adapt consequently. However, further research needs to be carried out on this topic and within the next 10 years or so, we can expect to see insurance companies come up with some pretty comprehensive self driving car insurance regulations.