Car insurance Fears
Car insurance prices are a major cost for many motorists in the UK, so much so that an increasing number of them cannot afford to pay for their cover in one lump sum, but prefer to pay monthly instead. What will happen, though, when autonomous, all-electric cars hit our roads?
What is the future for car insurance?
The theory is that drivers will be eliminated. We will get into our cars, programme in our destination and the software will do the rest. The cars will have multiple sensors that warn of hazards, both actual and potential, and a computer (either onboard or cloud-based) will respond automatically. Whilst teething problems are expected, the dream is that all potential accident situations will be anticipated and road traffic accidents will become thing of the past. Motor insurers will be rendered redundant; car insurance as we know it will cease to exist.
Will this really happen though?
Autonomous vehicles have been tested in a number of cities and although there have been a number of accidents, overall they have proven to be fairly safe. However there are a number of scenarios which could, conceivably, mess this record completely. Some possibilities are:
1) Adverse weather conditions. How would a car's sensors cope with, for instance, a covering of snow? Would the vehicle be effectively blinded? What about dense fog, or heavy rain? Could the engineers devise systems to eliminate these possibilities?
2) Malicious acts. Would terrorists use self driving vehicles to deliver bombs or other lethal payloads to populated areas? Could they be used to commit other crimes, or be programmed to crash, in order to harm the occupants?
3) Mischief. There are millions of people in the world who sharpen their hacking skills daily. Keeping up with them is a major problem for Internet security personnel. Since they can even hack into our 'smart' kettles and pop-up toasters, how long will it be before they have the ability to take over the operation of a vehicle, remotely? And, once these vulnerabilities are discovered, how easy or difficult will it be to eliminate them?
4) Actions by other road users. There will inevitably be a change-over period, during which both driven and self-driving cars will be sharing our roads at the same time. How will motorists react to these automatic vehicles, which may well travel more slowly than some of us would like? Will they cause irritation and impatience, with a consequent increase in accidents?
5) Mechanical/electrical problems. All cars break down eventually. How will the vehicles react to, say, a tyre puncture? Will they attempt to continue their journey, whilst a human driver would pull over and fix it? How about a car that overheats a little, but is still safe to drive. Will it be completely immobilised?
6) Software issues. Programming a car for any eventuality will be highly complex. What happens if something unexpected happens? Could the software crash? If so, what would happen then? Will our motorways be littered with cars that have broken down because a bird flew too close to it, a pothole caused an unexpected jolt, a sudden hailstorm battered several sensors simultaneously?
It could well be argued that numerous road traffic offences could cease to exist. Speeding, driving without due care and attention, crossing continuous double white lines; all these and more would be programmed out by software engineers. Drink driving, on the other hand, may still be a serious offence if the law decides that, even if a car is nominally self-driving, it still needs a driver available to take over in an emergency. If will be necessary, then, for many of our motoring laws to be revised.
How will this affect insurers?
If a real, live, human driver has to be present in a self driving car, then that person will probable need to be insured. However, the fact that this person may well have had little or no actual driving experience will have to be taken into consideration when deciding on a suitable premium. And who will actually insure the vehicle? Will this be taken over by the car manufacturers themselves, or their software developers? Will our whole industry of both small and large insurance companies cease to exist, along with price comparison sites, and some of the worst advertisements on television? Only time will tell, and there are interesting days ahead.