03 Jun 2016


When two human drivers have an accident, blame is apportioned and the appropriate person's insurance pays for things to get fixed. But things get a bit trickier when self-driving cars are involved, especially when you get into the nitty gritty of software updates and satellite failures. UK insurance firm Adrian Flux has opened up the debate with its autonomous car insurance policy, intended for cars like the Tesla Model S.

The Adrian Flux policy outlines a few autonomous-specific scenarios that need to be addressed, the first of which concerns software. Although the driver might be forced to pay an increased excess, the policy says drivers of autonomous cars are still covered if they've failed to install a software update, but only within 24 hours of being notified of its availability. After that 24-hour grace period, there's no word on whether you're covered or not – so assume not.

Even when the software in a car is fully up to date, there is a risk that satellite failures or software issues will cause the car to have an accident. There is also, rather scarily, a risk of accidents or damage being caused by hackers when we cede control to software systems, so the policy covers these potential circumstances as well.

Finally, current autonomous consumer cars all have some sort of manual override, but that doesn't mean drivers will always step in to stop mechanical, software of navigational issues causing a crash. If one of these factors is to blame in an accident and the driver doesn't take manual control to prevent it, Adrian Flux's policy still covers them.

Although there are a lot of considerations in the policy that are new, some things haven't changed – for one, the driver still needs to be aware and ready to control the car, so the days of napping through your daily commute haven't arrived just yet. As it is for existing cars, blame will also still be apportioned based on the car's condition, the road conditions, the driver's awareness at the time and (of course) the role played by other drivers.

It's also worth bearing in mind that this policy is likely to change dramatically as self-driving tech changes. As it does, the role insurance has to play will have to change with it. This was recognized by Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson who said "the medium to long-term impact [of autonomous cars] on the insurance industry is likely to be significant," at an insurance panel discussion earlier this year.

How significant? Research by HERE and Swiss Re suggests autonomous technologies could slice US$20 billion off the world's automotive insurance premiums by 2020. That's a huge hit to what is, according to the same researchers, the largest single slice of the pie that is global insurance premiums.

But as Samuelsson also pointed out, the reason for this reduction in premiums is "fewer accidents, fewer injuries, fewer fatalities. Autonomous driving cars are the single most important advance in automotive safety to be seen in recent years."


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