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Driverless cars are yet to hit UK roads, but there's already talk of how they're likely to change car insurance. Check out our guide to automated vehicles and the impact they could have on insurance premiums in the future.
Driverless cars are vehicles that don’t require a driver. Instead, an artificially intelligent (AI) computer is programmed to take the wheel and get you safely to where you need to be. Driverless cars are sometimes known as autonomous vehicles (AV). Self-driving cars could hit the UK market as soon as 2021.
With 94% of car accidents attributed to human error, automated vehicles are being hailed as a safer mode of transport. But they are not 100% safe yet. In March 2018, a woman was killed by a self-driving Uber in Arizona, USA, as she crossed a road. Studies in both the UK and the US seem to show that just over 70% of people don’t trust the safety of autonomous vehicles. They may be right to be worried, as a widely reported study from the University of Southampton found that, on average, drivers of autonomous vehicles take five times as long to respond to emergency braking compared to drivers of manual vehicles. The study in a simulator found that it takes drivers anything from 1.9 seconds to 25.7 seconds to take over the controls, even when the drivers aren’t distracted by any non-driving tasks. According to current UK law, a person must be in the driver’s seat and remain in control of the vehicle at all times, even if their car has semi-autonomous or highly assisted driving capabilities. But this could be about to change. The Law Commission is in the middle of a consultation about how the law should work around automated vehicles in the UK. It has completed its preliminary consultation paper and is now analysing the responses to the paper. It’s due to deliver final recommendations by March 2021.
They might not be common on UK roads yet, but the government has already passed the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, outlining regulations for the insurance of driverless cars. The bill states that insured automated vehicles will be covered for accidents that happen while their AI is driving. If they’re not properly insured, the car’s owner will be liable. The bill is also specific about the cars’ software. Insurance will be void if car owners make certain tweaks to the software, or if they don’t install ‘safety-critical’ software updates. Insurance providers will more than likely consider different levels of automation when quoting for driverless car insurance. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, there are five levels of car autonomy: Level 1: only one aspect of the car is automated. This includes auto cruise control and lane-keep assistance. Level 2: a computer controls multiple functions but the driver is ultimately in control. This includes self-parking features and lane-change mode. Level 3: a ‘conditional automation’ mode, where the car can drive itself, but a human driver must be ready to intervene. Level 4: a car that drives itself within a specific ‘geofenced’ area, such as a city that’s been mapped out with 3D tech. Level 5: a fully self-driving vehicle that’s totally in control and can drive anywhere by itself.
At the moment, it’s a bit of a guessing game. Although legislation has been drafted, there are some laws that still need to be agreed – such as criminal and civil liability in the case of accidents. Tests are still underway to see how driverless cars actually perform on the road, so it will be a while before we see them out and about. Once the cars are legalised though, insuring one should be fairly straightforward. It's likely there'll be one driverless car insurance policy to cover all automated use (where it’s legally permitted). Insurance providers will probably cover the cost of accidents that couldn’t have been prevented by the driver, due to a failure of the car’s systems. It's likely there’ll also be a section of the policy that covers software issues caused by either manufacturing faults or malicious damage. At the moment, there aren’t many insurance providers who offer driverless car insurance. But as the technology becomes commonplace, this will change.
It’s impossible to say until driverless cars are fully legal on UK roads. It's possible, however, that self-driving cars might cut insurance costs for car owners. Avoidable accidents account for around 94% of all claims, and it's thought that reducing human error will lead to fewer accidents. If that's true, insurance providers will probably reward owners with a reduction in their premium. Our guide to driverless car rumours sheds more light on public feeling about this new tech.