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Self-Driving Cars

Last Updated 11/15/17

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),"autonomous" or "self-driving" vehicles are those in which operation of the vehicle occurs without direct driver input to control the steering, acceleration, and braking and are designed so that the driver is not expected to constantly monitor the roadway while operating in self-driving mode. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predict that 75% of cars on the roads in the world will be autonomous by 2040. Moreover, a 2012, KPMG Study foresees self-driving cars hitting showrooms in 2019.

Google® is the pioneer in autonomous driving technology. In 2005, Google established a team of engineers, led by Sebastian Thrun, who developed a robotic vehicle that won a contest sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Since 2009, Google has been test-driving autonomous vehicles on public roads and claims their self-driving vehicles have traveled about 2.3 million miles, the equivalent of 300 years of human driving experience. Only one accident, in 2016, was reported to be the fault of Google's self-driving car. Google believes that self-driving cars can make driving more efficient and safer by eliminating distracted driving and other human error. According to NHTSA, fatalities in distraction affected crashes increased 8.8%, 3,477 in 2015, compared to 3,197 in 2014.

In December 2016, Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., officially launched its self-driving car project into a new company called Waymo.  Since then, the company has added over 500 Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleet of self-driving cars, advancing autonomous driving technology. As excitement and momentum for self-driving cars grows, there are numerous insurance questions that will need to be addressed before such vehicles take the road. For example: What happens if a self-driving car gets into an accident? Who is liable for the damages? Will the human "copilot" be at fault or will the car's manufacturer?  Will the 'driver' have to maintain a constant vigil on the road ahead at all times? What are they allowed to do inside the vehicle…can they nap, read a book or text message while the car does all the navigating? Will they even need a driver's license? A 2017 KMPG report highlights the "chaotic middle" the auto insurance industry is facing in this new period.   

There is also a long list of safety and legal issues to iron out before self-driving cars hit the road. In September 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) presented, Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety, as part of U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) multimodal efforts to support the safe introduction of automation technologies. Currently, twenty-one states have passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles. Getting the technology to make the vehicles is only half the challenge; the other half will be creating a legal, liability and regulatory framework to govern their use on public streets.