Driverless Cars - Where Are They Taking Us?

April 27, 2014| Von Charlie Kingdollar | Auto/Motor | English

Region: U.S.

Self-driving, or autonomous cars used to be the stuff of sci-fi, but now it looks like the technology has a real place in the not too distant future. Google’s autonomous car has gone hundreds of thousands of miles without incident. And it’s not just Google in the driving seat.

CNN reports that most major car manufacturers are collaborating with universities, and even collaborating among themselves, in developing automated-driving technology. A few states, including California and Nevada, already have or are developing, regulations that address self-driving cars.

Many experts believe that a shift to driverless vehicles will reduce the number of accidents involving distracted drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that 40% of all fatal crashes are due to driver distraction, fatigue or alcohol/drug abuse.

The Eno Center for Transportation, an independent think tank, suggests that if 90% of vehicles in the U.S. were autonomous, 4.2 million accidents could be avoided and 21,700 lives could be saved. It goes on to observe that if only 10% of automobiles were autonomous, there could be 211,000 fewer crashes and 1,100 fewer deaths per year.

If so, what will that do to auto rates if and when the vast majority of vehicles are autonomous?

That time could be a way off, but a variety of assisted driving innovations are already being installed in vehicles designed to reduce the frequency and severity of accidents. Examples include blind spot assist, automatic braking and drowsiness alerts for drivers.

In February 2014, the federal government gave auto makers the green light  to install vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, sharing information about speed and position to help avoid collisions.

Volvo has reportedly developed a system that scans for cyclists and can automatically brake to prevent a collision. The system uses a radar scanner installed in the grill as well as a camera fitted in front of the rearview mirror and an on-board computer.

Again, the appearance of such technology raises many interesting liability and coverage questions. What percentage of accidents will be the result of an assisted driving product failure? Will losses be paid under the product manufacturer’s or component manufacturer’s product liability coverage? Will there be joint liability for auto coverage and product liability policies?

Driverless vehicles may still be a few years down the road, but clearly  it’s not too early to consider the implications for our business.

Read my full article for more on this topic.


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