The idea of self-driving cars becoming a widespread mode of transportation is an uncomfortable one for some people. A future in which there are only robot-driven cars on the roads (or at least a majority of robot-driven cars) raises a handful of concerns, not only about general safety, but also about the economic impact on things like the auto insurance industry.
The gradual rise of self-driving cars in our society will likely take a lot of time, and will bring with it both negatives and positives that we should consider before we fully adopt this technology.
The Pros and Cons of Self-Driving Cars
There are clearly positives to a situation in which manually driven cars are a thing of the past, and we are all by default using self-driven vehicles (however far-off or fantastical it may be – it’s hard to say at this stage of the game). The plus side of self-driving cars being the norm is that distracted driving accidents would become a thing of the past.
People who are sober and not using their cell phones make errors all the time while driving. Substance abuse and device use merely serve to compound those errors. A self-driving car would be like being driven by a chaeuffer; you could sit and drink and use your cell phones in the car without endangering anyone.
On the other hand, automation won’t necessarily save the day. Self-driving cars and manually driven cars are now on the roads together in parts of California, and so far (according to some articles) there have been no accidents. But these self-driving cars have not yet been tested in all circumstances, traffic conditions, weather conditions, etc. In some scenarios, such as situations that require snap judgments using one’s surroundings, we may be better off with humans at the wheel.
Additionally, small self-driving cars carrying passengers are a slightly different matter than self-driving trucks on highways. Consider the possibility of an 18-wheeler loaded with materials; if the automation that causes these machines to function breaks down in some way, the carnage that results could be devastating.
Implications in the Auto Insurance Industry
Machines are more error-proof than humans, so in theory, more machines doing the driving would mean fewer accidents. Therefore, in theory, insurance companies would have to charge less, if anything, for auto insurance coverage.
With the rise of self-driving cars, however, comes a whole other category of issues for which auto insurance will surely be needed. Even if the industry has to change somewhat, it will always be a necessary component of owning a vehicle.
The laws and rules of the road that apply to motor vehicles would stay the same. So, for example, if a self-driving car were to make a left turn improperly, the currently existing rules and consequences would still apply.
Additionally, in order for this technology to become mainstream, there would have to be a transition period in which there are both self-driving and human operated vehicles sharing the roads. During this type of transition, not much would change in terms of insurance and laws – humans will still be responsible for their own errors.
Post-transition, once the road is hypothetically completely full of self-driving cars and no humans are operating vehicles, accidents will continue to happen. Accidents may be less frequent with robots driving, but they would also likely be more severe (such as in a situation where a mass transit vehicle malfunctions, or cannot react to something in its path quickly enough).
Negligence will not be removed from the equations even if automation is the norm. Human designers of the system would be targets for at fault claims for traffic errors, for instance, whether it be in the design and manufacture of the self-driving vehicle itself, or in the design and upkeep in order to accommodate such a huge technological shift, but the likelihood of the auto insurance industry completely disappearing is slim to none.
1st image of self driving car: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/147940-google-self-driving-cars-in-3-5-years-feds-not-so-fast
2nd image of self driving car: http://www.theverge.com/2014/5/28/5756852/googles-self-driving-car-isnt-a-car-its-the-future
Stuart A. Carpey, who has been practicing as an attorney since 1987, focuses his practice on complex civil litigation which includes representing injured individuals in a vast array of personal injury cases.