Will driverless cars mean no more car insurance?

Driverless car

On 11th October 2016, the UK’s first driverless car was tested in public in Milton Keynes. Self-driving cars are no longer a thing of the future, they’re already here.

Even now we are seeing cars on the road with automated technology. According to Thatcham Research, it is estimated that over 600,000 UK cars now have AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking). Crash-prevention technology is no longer a luxury item and together with lane departure warning systems, active cruise control and automated parking, many forms of automated technology are coming to be thought of as standard in some new vehicles.

If the everyday car can be called semi-autonomous, how long before truly autonomous or driverless vehicles are a commonplace sight on the roads of the UK?

How long will we need drivers?

The Association of British Insurers expects that by 2025, there will be at least some form of fully autonomous vehicles operating in the UK.

Household names are now actively testing fully autonomous cars with BMW, Ford, Honda, Toyota and Volvo all hinting at a range of autonomous cars by 2021 and Hyundai and Google not far behind.

It has been said that there are four key stages of technology on the road to driverless cars, referred to as “feet off, hands off, eyes off, brain off.”

  1. Feet off cars are already here, as anyone who has cruise control will know.
  2. Hands off is expected to be in use on motorways by 2018. Whilst drivers will be able to take their hands off the wheel for short periods of time, they will require to remain alert for hazards.
  3. Eyes off is suggested to be in place by 2021. Cars will be fitted with sufficient technology to allow a driver to read a book and have the car in complete control on motorway driving. Off the motorway, the car will be able to offer additional support to a driver.
  4. Brain off is meant to be in here by 2025. They expect that cars will be able to convey passengers fully, from door to door, with no driver input at all.

More than this, the cars will become ‘connected’ to each other, communicating in real time with other vehicles and with roadside infrastructure; with the aim to reduce congestion, accidents, fraud and improve fuel management.

Where does fault lie in the event of a car accident with no driver?

There is currently no definite answer to this question. The Automated Driving Insurance Group is working closely with the UK Government and the insurance industry on the future of automated vehicle use in the UK.

Representatives from thirteen UK motor insurers (and counting) are engaging with the group to discuss key issues.

Options so far include extending existing vehicle cover to also cover product liability, self-insurance from the vehicle manufacturer and specific insurer add-ons to cover software failure to existing technology such as AEB or lane recognition.

Does there need to be changes to existing road traffic laws?

The UK government is keen to lead the way on the development of driverless car technology and in 2016, launched a consultation on changes to insurance rules and motoring regulations to allow driverless cars to be used.

The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill 2017 is the outcome of the 2016 Consultation. It is currently progressing through the House of Commons and deals, amongst other things, with automated vehicles and the liability of insurers.

An initial definition of an automated vehicle in the Bill, is “one designed or adapted to be capable … of safely driving themselves without having to be monitored by an individual.”

At present, Part 1, section 2(2) of the Bill suggests that where an accident is caused by an automated vehicle which is not being controlled by a driver, in the absence of any other insurance policy, the owner of the vehicle will be liable for the damage.

Section 4 clarifies that in the event of an insurance policy being in place, the insurer’s liability may be excluded or limited if the accident occurred as a result of installing unauthorised software or a failure to implement software.

The UK Government has allowed for automated vehicles to be tested on UK motorways from 2017. Look closely the next time a car appears to be driving itself, because that might be exactly what is happening.