Erschienen in Ausgabe 8-2016Märkte & Vertrieb

274. The insurance of semi-autonomous cars

Von Keith PurvisVersicherungswirtschaft

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274. The insurance of semi-autonomous cars

Autonomous cars, vehicles that can operate without a driver, are the subject of intense research and development in Silicon Valley and other places. Cars of recent manufacture already have a number of facilities that function automatically, many being able to park on their own, provided they are brought into the correct initial position. It will be many years, however, before a car will be able to undertake a journey without a driver being present to intervene in an emergency. When that day arrives, third party liability motor insurance will presumably be replaced by product liability insurance. In the meantime, in a developmental phase that could take decades until full autonomy is attained, and assuming that completely driverless cars are legally permitted at some time in the future, we shall have to live with semi-autonomous cars and their drivers, a situation of shared responsibility that is problematic.
The ability of an autonomous car to perceive what is happening is in many respects far superior to that of even the very best driver, simply because its computer gives it 360 degree vision and the ability to differentiate between small objects at distances that are physically impossible for a human being. However, the presence and potential behaviour of pedestrians and other cars on the road, that are not computer controlled, confront the artificial intelligence of an autonomous car with situations it cannot cope with, and then it has to get the driver to act, very, very fast in most cases. But when this call comes, what if the driver is enjoying the freedom autonomous driving allegedly gives him and is immersed in his e-mails or simply day-dreaming? Is it really likely that he will be able to orient himself sufficiently quickly to be able to take emergency action? And if he doesn’t do the right thing, who is to blame? Was it the computer for informing him too late, or the driver himself for reacting too slowly or inappropriately? Will autonomous cars during this development phase include devices to control driver behaviour for such interventions?
And in the long run up to autonomous car perfection how will insurers deal with this hybrid situation? Will there be expensive wrangles between product liability insurers and motor liability insurers over driver intervention claims, or to avoid such disputes will there always be the same insurer for both classes of insurance, analogue to the insurance of property…