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Will Self-Driving Cars Reduce Accidents, Lead To Lower Insurance Rates?

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Self-driving cars are a fairly common sight around Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley,  but where insurance rates will go when driverless cars hit the road is still very much a mystery.

Those who build so-called driverless cars,  like Maartin Sierhuis of Nissan Research, say they’re safer than ones with humans behind the wheel.   “The autonomous vehicle can react faster and drive safer than the average human can drive,”  Sierhuis said.   Multiple studies have found human error accounts for more than 90% of car crashes.

“Fewer claims should drive costs down,” said Laura Adams of InsuranceQuotes.com.   But, she said what will happen to rates is still an open question.  “We really don’t know how insurance companies are going to handle driverless cars at this point,”  Adams told Consumerwatch.   Among the issues she says insurers are grappling with:    “Is the burden on the driver or is it more on the manufacturer of the vehicle?”

Adams believes insurers may require owners of self-driving cars to do more than just pay a premium.  “Insurance companies will probably want consumers to have a good bit of education around this.  They may require a certification so the driver understands how the functions of the car work.”

“Insurance issues have been discussed quite a lot,”  according to Steven Shladover of the University of California’s Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology program.  He says while fully automated cars may be less apt to crash or run a red light,  don’t assume they’re perfect.  “No vehicle is totally failsafe,”   Shladover told Consumerwatch.   “Anything designed and built by people will have flaws,”  he explained.

But, Shladover says if there’s a problem with a self-driving car,  it’ll be easier to assign blame.  “Any automatic vehicle that’s put into service is going to have a lot of sensors and recorders,”  he said.   “When a crash occurs there’ll be some pretty good data.”

Meanwhile, the new rules of the road are still being written.   California lawmakers have tasked the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations governing the testing and use of autonomous vehicles by January 1,  2015.

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