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Self-driving cars raise new issues for drivers and insurers

When automakers starting testing self-driving vehicles, New York was the only state with a law that potentially restricted the technology. According to Consumer Reports, there is a state restriction which stipulates NY drivers must have one hand on the wheel while the vehicle is moving.

Though this doesn't explicitly restrict autonomous vehicles, it certainly implied driverless cars were not legal in the state. However, New York passed a bill that temporarily permitted self-driving cars to be tested. The law initially allowed this testing for one year, but deadline was extended for another year, just before the expiration on April 1 of this year.

Driverless technology testing extended

In New York, that leaves companies with the chance to test autonomous vehicles until April 2019. However, the bill also states all tests of self-driving cars on public roads must have a police escort. Audi is the only automaker that has conducted testing in New York, and it only completed one short test. General Motors has pledged to try out its autonomous vehicles in Manhattan, but has not yet completed any trials.

Legal questions of fault

When a woman was struck and killed by a driverless Uber vehicle this March, it raised legal questions about fault. If the safety driver did not perform needed safety measures, Uber could be found to be negligent for this accident. However, if the technology on the vehicle malfunctioned, the manufacturer of the vehicle could be found responsible. This would fall under failing product liability standards. Depending on all the conditions of the accident, the woman who was killed could even be found be responsible. That would only happen if she acted in an extremely negligent manner.

Less human error could mean less accidents

Some automakers have already accepted all liability for driverless cars involved in accidents. Companies are willing to take this gamble because many experts believe self-driving cars will dramatically reduce the number of car crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that 94 percent of serious vehicle accidents are caused by human error. With less humans driving, the belief is that less accidents will occur.

Ramifications for the auto insurance industry

The auto insurance industry primarily provides coverage to individual drivers. With automakers accepting liability, the industry will likely see a decrease in the number of people seeking individual coverage. The predicted decrease in the number of accidents will also likely cause insurance premiums to decline. Both possibilities would hurt the bottom line of auto insurance companies.

Until autonomous driving becomes the norm, insurance companies will have plenty of individual drivers to insure. Since none of these changes are occurring overnight, there will also be time to consider how to respond to these changing conditions. Insurance Business America states many companies may consider taking on large commercial clients, like the companies developing these technologies. Insurance companies could also explore issues of cyber security and product liability, as these will likely be big issues for driverless technologies.

For both drivers and those that insure them, driverless technology options will continue to expand and present new and increasingly complex challenges.

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