August 10, 2019

Looking Toward a Future With Fully Autonomous Cars

autonomous car

For decades people have fantasized about — and attempted to create — autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars, as they are commonly called. Science fiction has obsessed over them for generations and until recently they were just that, fiction. However, technology seems to have nearly caught up with our imaginations. Self-driving cars are predicted to be available to the public in the next few years. Every major car manufacturer on the planet is now inventing and testing autonomous technology.

Although corporations such as Google, Tesla and General Motors have been marketing their new cars as the self-driving cars people dream of, they are not quite truly autonomous. The cars currently manufactured are at stage two of the six-stage scale created by the Society for Automotive Engineers International (SAE).

Six stages of autonomous vehicles

SAE’s six stages of autonomy are as follows:

Stage 0: No autonomy, completely controlled by driver, regular car.

Stage 1: Mostly still controlled by the driver, but the car can automatically do a few things such as braking.

Stage 2: Car can assist driver in actual driving, with cruise control and lane centering, but the driver needs to pay full attention and be ready to take control for most situations.

Stage: 3: Car can fully drive itself and account for many road situations, but the driver still needs to be alert and take control in emergencies.

Stage 4: Car is autonomous and does not need an attentive driver to operate it on the road. Car cannot handle off-roading or non-road environments.

Stage 5: Car is fully autonomous, on the road and off it, and can deal with any environment without a driver.

Evolving cars, evolving policies

So, what does all this mean for car customers and the insurance covering them? Current auto insurance policies will evolve alongside the technology. As vehicle design progresses through the stages toward full autonomy, policies will adapt to the changes. New types of policies will arise as the need for coverage does. Full vehicle autonomy is predicted to reduce road accidents by a notable amount, but product liability policies will still be around to cover accidents when they do occur.

Another insurance trend to be aware of during this transition to autonomous cars is coverage for municipalities. The street sensors that will aid self-driving cars to be aware of their surroundings will likely be built and maintained by municipalities. Municipalities will need claim coverage for liability protection. Working road sensors will be critical in the era of self-driving cars.

With semi-autonomous vehicles on the near horizon and full autonomy perhaps only a decade away, the future of travel is going to change substantially, and in a good way. Increased autonomy in the cars we drive will result in fewer accidents and injuries on the road. However, this does not mean that there will not still be damaging incidents in the future that will require the right insurance policies for adequate protection. These policies will change with the vehicles and people they are designed to protect.

by Jack Mainellis