Self-Driving Cars – With or Without You?

We’re reading that self-driving cars are no longer a thing of the future, but it’s in the subhead of this  Time article: how long will it be before your car no longer needs you? where the heart of the story lies.

Jason H. Harper writes of how he earned one of the first new driverless motor licenses  — technically known as an “autonomous vehicle testing” permit  — from the California DMV.

He then describes his chauffeured ride by a prototype Audi from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas for last week’s Consumer Electronics Show:

The car uses an array of sensors, radars and a front-facing camera to negotiate traffic. At this point, the system works only on the freeway and cannot handle construction zones or areas with poor lane markings. When the car reaches a construction zone or the end of a highway, a voice orders you to take the wheel back.”

Before taking the 550-mile road trip, Harper had to get special instruction on how not to drive, per California regulations:

The training included basics like turning the system on and off and learning the circumstances in which it could be used. The rest was about handling emergencies, such as making lane changes to avoid crashing.”

Harper says the training was far more difficult and involved than a regular driving test. However, average buyers will not need such training.

Why?

Because rollout of this technology is gradual. Audi’s program for example would allow the car to self-drive in stop-and-go highway traffic, but when traffic clears the driver takes the wheel again.

It’s at the very end of the article that a voice from academia reminds us that  this  approach may be no bad thing  as  both technology and driver acceptance need time to mature.

Dr. Jeffrey Miller, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, tells Time that in his opinion licenses and drivers will never be obsolete because “the driver will always have to take over in case of a failure.”

It’s an interesting point. From the insurance perspective, too, while self-driving cars are definitely on the way, the  implications for insurers are evolving. In its issue update Self-Driving Cars and Insurance, the I.I.I. notes:

Except that the number of crashes will be greatly reduced, the insurance aspects of this gradual transformation are at present unclear. However, as crash avoidance technology gradually becomes standard equipment, insurers will be able to better determine the extent to which these various components reduce the frequency and cost of accidents.”

And:

They will also be able to determine whether the accidents that do occur lead to a higher percentage of product liability claims, as claimants blame the manufacturer or suppliers for what went wrong rather than their own behavior.”

More on auto insurance here.

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