With our launch of the UK’s first personal driverless car insurance policy, the discussion around who or what is liable in the event of a collision will, we hope, take a new and interesting step forward.
We’ve designed this policy for people who may have driverless or autonomous features in their existing car, or who may be thinking of buying a new car with driverless or autopilot features such as Tesla’s forthcoming Model 3.
In most respects it resembles a typical car insurance policy – it covers all the usual things – but has some extra points relating to driverless technology including:
You’re covered for loss or damage if:
- Updates or security patches for things like the driverless operating system, firewalls, electronic mapping and journey planning systems haven’t been successfully installed in the vehicle within 24 hours of the owner being notified by the manufacturer or software provider – subject to an additional policy excess;
- There are satellite failure/outages that affect the navigation systems, or if the manufacturer’s operating system fails or other authorised software fails;
- Caused by failing when able to use manual override to avoid a collision or accident in the event of operating system, navigation system or mechanical failure;
- Your car gets hacked or an attempted hack results in loss or damage.
Who is liable in the event of an accident or collision?
This is the 64-million-dollar question! In terms of deciding who or what is responsible if there’s an accident or collision, this will depend on a number of factors, as it would for existing cars: the condition of the car, the driver’s awareness and abilities at the time, road conditions, other vehicles or people involved and so on.
If, for instance, the car’s driverless technology or its supporting systems are shown to have failed or caused some other disruption resulting in an accident, collision or other type of damage, the driver may not bear any responsibility.
The way we’ve designed our driverless car policy means that the driver will always need to be able to take control of the car at any point in their journey. So a driver couldn’t turn on the autopilot and have a nap at the wheel.
The owner will always need to maintain their car, as they would any other vehicle. They’ll need to make sure any updates from manufacturers or other relevant parties are promptly installed, although they’ll be covered if that isn’t the case for the first 24 hours.
Will this policy change in future?
Almost certainly! Stephan Appt, an expert in the regulation of connected and autonomous vehicles at law firm Pinsent Masons, suggests: “If a machine can drive itself and the owner has little or no influence over how it operates, and if no technical fault arises in the event of an accident that can be pinned on the manufacturer, then you can see why there might need to be a paradigm shift in consideration of liability.
“With complex software and systems dictating how cars behave on the road, and people travelling inside serving merely as passengers in these transport pods of the future, technical features of vehicles will become the most important things for insurers to consider when calculating risk and premiums.”
So whether it’s man or machine at the wheel – or a combination – the question of liability may never be fixed for all time. Like the technology, it will evolve.
Appt concludes: “The reality is that the impact on insurers of the move to more autonomous vehicles on our roads will differ depending on at what stage the technology, and underlying legal framework, is at.”
What about other insurers?
In terms of identifying who other insurers will deem liable in the event of a collision, there is still plenty of room for debate and each will no doubt draw their own conclusions. Under existing rules, compulsory car insurance covers personal liability for accidents. However, the Modern Transport Bill, announced in this year’s Queen’s Speech, will extend compulsory cover to accidents where the car itself, rather than the driver, is at fault.
The UK’s road’s minister, Andrew Jones recently outlined how the insurance industry will adapt to the introduction of driverless cars and the question of liability by saying, “…in the event of a serious collision in driverless mode, it would be the vehicle at fault, instead of the human driver.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US also, for example, considers Google’s autonomous driving software can be identified as the driver.
How this interpretation of liability will work with the state of California’s previous ruling insisting a fully licensed driver must be present in the car is still unclear. If there’s no steering wheel in the car, as Google is planning, why would a human occupant need a driving licence or car insurance?
Leading the way
In the same way launching the UK’s first and only app that gives young drivers a daily update of their next renewal premium, we hope our policy will help drivers use the autonomous technology in their cars with more peace of mind and protection.