Talk of the new, self-driving Google car has been all over the web in recent months. It uses advanced AI technology that allows cars to “think” in a more human way, and the advantages are clear.
Self-driving cars like this would allow those who are unable or unwilling to drive still be able to get around with ease, without having to rely on someone to constantly give them lifts. This includes the elderly, those with disabilities or simply those who don”t like the idea of driving.
But this raises the question, will we still need insurance? And what about driving licences? After all, if you”re driving a self-drive car and you”re the only passenger, won”t you need to know what to do in case of an emergency?
The legal issues around insurance
Along with the amazing possibilities that self-drive cars offer, there are also plenty of legal implications. A prime example is in the case of an accident. Will you, the driver behind the wheel, be responsible, even though it was the car that executed the maneuver? Essentially you”re acting like a pilot, occasionally taking over or overriding the pre-programmed settings where required, so this is a possibility.
However, it”s worth considering that accidents could actually be deemed as the fault of the company that built the technology for the car, such as Google. Although the general consensus is that self-driving cars will reduce accidents on the whole, with as much as 90% of accidents caused by driver error, it”s still something that will need to be considered before the Google car hits the roads. Otherwise, it could become a real issue in the courts, with different countries or judges ruling in completely different ways.
The “blame game” could become extremely complicated, with drivers or “pilots” being blamed if they”ve not updated their settings at the time of the accident.
Here”s where the “Pathway to Driverless Cars” DfT report comes in…
This government report has sought to address the issues outlined above and provide;
“Greater certainty around criminal and civil liability in the event of an automated vehicle being in a collision”.
Steps include the possibility of insuring cars as appose to drivers, working out the cars own risks in much a similar way that insurance is currently laid out for drivers. There could also be a government levy on each driverless car sold, which would then be used to pay for a uniform insurance policy to cover accidents.
So what about licences?
This is a very tricky area. The fact is that the Google self-drive cars will still need some kind of input from the driver, with the options to override the automatic settings and drive the car in the way we”re used to.
This will clearly require a licence. However, as the technology advances and no input is required at all, will this still be the case? It could simply be that those with completely self-driven cars just need to learn basic road awareness; in the way the cyclists and pedestrians are encouraged to do so. This could be through a theory test similar to the current driver”s theory test.
And what about taxis?
Currently, transporting those not wanting to or those not able to drive is the reserve of taxis, so it makes sense that large taxi companies might consider investing in self-driving cars. However, this brings up the issue of insurance one again. Who would pay for the taxi insurance? The driver who owns the taxi? Or would large taxi companies simply buy a whole fleet and pay for the cost themselves?
Many people might be uncomfortable with the idea of being driven around in a self-driving car when they themselves have no knowledge of the roads. This would mean having a driver to handle any issues, but does this make them responsible for insuring the vehicle?
Either way, as technology evolves in this direction it”s clear that our laws will need a real rethink in order to keep up with the updates.
Gemma Sheldrick is Head of Strategy at DNA Insurance, who provide insurance advice and cover for businesses across the UK.