Self-driving cars no longer are just the dreams of science fiction writers, they’re a reality. Companies like Google have been working on self-driving automotive technology since 2009. Today, their self-driving car project is known as Waymo a term that means a “new way forward in mobility.” In addition to Waymo, automotive manufacturers like Tesla, Ford, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Volvo, BMW, Volkswagen, and General Motors are in the race to get a safe, fully-functional self-driving car on the road as a “daily driver” for everyday consumers.
Automation may seem high-tech and futuristic, but it has been a part of our lives for decades—from the earliest auto-tillers fitted on sailboats to the robotic vacuums that effortlessly keep the floors of our homes clean. However, the first concept of an “automated” vehicle actually may date back to a clockwork cart designed by Leonardo Da Vinci in the late 1400’s. Today, the rise of self-driving or autonomous cars offer not only the enjoyment of advanced technology, but they also raise a number of questions and concerns from the public, private, and governmental sectors of our society.
Autonomous Vehicle: Defining the Self-Driving Car
A self-driving car can be known as an autonomous vehicle, or AV, and/or as a driverless car. This type of vehicle does not need a human driver to steer, control, or perform any other actions to safety operate the car. The autonomous vehicle may be a car, truck, or other type of transport. These self-driving machines use a combination of advanced software, sensors, and tech to perform the actions of human driver—from basic navigation to recognizing potential accident factors.
Levels of the Autonomous or Self-Driving Car
When considering self-driving car insurance and liability issues, it’s essential to look at the various levels of the autonomous vehicle. Industry experts have designated five specific levels of autonomy in relation to self-driving cars. According to Business Insider these are:
- Level 0: Major systems controlled by human
- Level 1: Some automation that handles one system at time, like cruise control
- Level 2: Two automated systems at once (ie: steering and acceleration) but requires human control for safety
- Level 3: Ability to handle “dynamic driving tasks” but still may require driver intervention
- Level 4: Driverless or autonomous in most driving situations, but not all
- Level 5: Completely driverless or autonomous in all driving situations, no humans required
Self-Driving Car Insurance and Liability
One of the biggest questions regarding self-driving cars typically is: Who’s responsible in the event of an accident? From 2009 through 2012 the Google self-driving car project placed autonomous, Level 4 self-driving cars on the road with a test driver. These test drives included complex city street routes where the car had to compensate for a variety of situations with pedestrians, cyclists, and even road construction. As the years and technology have progressed, the risk for accidents has increased. The more self-driving cars on the road, the more miles traveled and the higher the probability some form of accident can and will occur.
So what happens if this self-driving car doesn’t stop for a pedestrian? Or it crashes into a pole while avoiding road construction? If the car is the “driver”, and the car is not human, then who is responsible?
In general, in the event of an accident, it’s the manufacturers that shoulder the liability for their vehicles that are operated with little to no human intervention. In 2015, Volvo stated that as a manufacturer, they would accept full liability in the event of a self-driving car crash. Other manufacturers were expected to follow Volvo’s lead. However, an accident that happened in May 2016 was a different story.
A driver using a Tesla autopilot system on their Tesla Model S was killed when the car didn’t brake as a truck made a left turn in front of it. The car went under the truck, drove off the road, and hit a pole. The Tesla autopilot system is considered Level 2 autonomy requiring human control for safety. After a six-month investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it was determined the driver was at fault, not Tesla. This particular case demonstrates that the varying levels of self-driving cars/autonomy play an important role regarding liability and car insurance.
Possible Future for Auto Insurance with Self-Driving Cars
As of September 2017, the self-driving cars from Uber had driven one million miles in their autonomous mode, reports Forbes. It took them more than two years to achieve those million miles. However, they hit the next million miles in only 100 days. Waymo has introduced fully self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans and introduced a rider program in Phoenix, Arizona. Self-driving cars are making inroads; however, concerns regarding accidents and liability still require further consideration and legislation.
Self-driving cars have the potential to significantly impact auto insurance. If manufacturers are held liable, then auto insurance companies will need to restructure policies and possibly offer a new level/type of coverage specifically for self-driving cars. At Badell’s, we’ll continue to service all makes and models and work with your personal insurance agency when claims need to be filed. Look to us as your Auto Body collision center for dent and car glass repair as well as paint restoration.
Badell’s Collision has proudly served Chester and Delaware Counties with outstanding collision repairs since 2003. With locations in Aston and Malvern, we’re prepared to provide you with exceptional service no matter what kind of damage your car has endured. Stop by one of our shops or use our simple online estimate form. We look forward to helping you!