As Self-Driving Cars Hit the Road; Innovation Is Outpacing Insurance

The revolution in self-driving vehicles has advanced faster than insurance companies can react to it. These cars introduce unique factors that must be integrated into the models that are used to set insurance premiums. At this time, coverage for self-driving cars is set using the same formulas as for traditional cars. Not long ago, there was a fatality involving the Tesla Model S. This occurred while the vehicle's Autopilot mode was active. The case brought new attention to the risks of using self-driving cars on the road, and insurance companies noticed.

Insurance Procedure For Self-Driving Cars

The process of using your insurance for a self-driving car works the same way as for normal cars. This is according to Robert Hartwig who is in charge of the Insurance Information Institute. When there is an investigation of an accident involving the car, the insurer of the party who is at fault must pay for the damage and injuries to other people. This amount is capped by the financial limits of the policy. This opens the question of whether the occupant of the self-driving car is at fault. In these situations, the insurer will pay the claim but reserve the right to file charges against the manufacturer or other organization to recover its expenses. There are no exceptions made even if a software crash causes the accident.

Tesla’s official policy in these cases is that the Autopilot feature does not turn their cars into self-driving vehicles, so it cannot be held responsible for what happens.

Tesla sells its cars to the general public, but it has the requirement that drivers buyers have minimum liability insurance. This insurance covers the damages if property, cars and other people are harmed.

Insurance Provider Knowledge

Insurance providers say that in some cases they aren’t aware when they provide coverage for self-driving vehicles. When a person wants insurance, they contact the insurer to get a quote. The owner must provide the insurer with the model type of their vehicle, but that alone does not tell the insurer if a car has self-driving options included. In fact, the same model of car may be self-driving or not depending on how the owner customized it at purchase. Some owners may have the Autopilot feature available to them but choose not to activate it. It is predicted that insurance companies will start to demand answers to this question more often in the future.

The Death of Joshua Brown

The man who was killed in a collision while using his Autopilot mode in his Tesla was Joshua Brown. His family is represented by the lawyer Paul Grieco. Brown had an insurance policy that covered his Tesla Model S with an unnamed insurer. At the age of 40, he was killed when his car collided with a tractor-trailer in Florida. Though it is certain that Autopilot was active when the death occurred there is a legal gray area about who is responsible for Brown’s death. The ordeal is being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Overall, there are not many cars with self-driving options on the market yet. Only a handful of states have enacted rules that govern how self-driving cars should be treated relative to traditional ones. The new cars are being tested by companies like Google, Uber and Ford too. The cars being tested are under special insurance or fleet insurance in case an accident occurs. Some legal experts are of the opinion that the autonomous vehicles should be seen as advanced driver-assist features. Tesla warns its drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road even when Autopilot mode is active. It is too soon to tell how insurance coverage for self-driving cars will work. Eventually, they will have an impact on the industry’s insurance rates. This will occur once more actuarial data comes in. The severity and frequency of accidents will determine where the rates will be set.

By Lindsey Patterson

About the author

Lindsey Patterson is a freelance writer and entrepreneur who specializes in business technology, customer relationship management, and lead management. She also writes about the latest social trends, specifically involving social media. You can follow her on Twitter: @LindseyPatter19

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