We already know how challenging it can be after a car accident. Now, imagine a collision involving an automated vehicle? The dawn of the self-driving cars has exposed many grey areas for the insurance industry, lawmakers, and owners of self-driving cars.
In 2017, a cyclist in California filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of a self-driving vehicle after it hit the cyclist while changing lanes (it was a Chevy Bolt). The incident brings to light one of the many issues surrounding self-driving cars – who is the responsible party? Is it the owner or the automaker?
In early 2018, a woman was killed by a self-driving car conducted by Uber. It was the first reported incident of a pedestrian fatality involving a self-driving vehicle. The investigation uncovered the software and advanced sensors did not “see” the woman. Also, the driver was not watching the road during the moments that led to the collision. The final verdict was the accident was unavoidable as the woman crossed the road in an unsafe manner. Mea, Uber was not found criminally liable for the accidental death caused by their vehicle.
Each self-driving car receives a Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International that has a classification system based on their level of automation. These grades impact insurance rates and the products offered. For example, the Insurance Information Institute advises that liability coverage needs may change. They say, “as manufacturers and suppliers and possibly even municipalities are called upon to take responsibility for what went wrong.” Also, each jurisdiction has its own set of rules and regulations for auto insurance.
Autonomous vehicles create two significant technological risks: cybersecurity and software reliability. Insurance products will eventually evolve to mitigate these risks. Autonomy advocates say that autonomous cars can reduce driver error, which can reduce insurance premiums. However, it will take years to perfect self-driving car technology. In the meantime, lawmakers and the insurance industry must address the implications. Existing insurance standards and practices cannot wholly resolve problems, which can lead to protracted lawsuits and costly claims.
One might argue that self-driving cars could erode citizens’ rights to public streets. Given the economic incentive to seek public-private partnerships between municipalities and technology companies, cities, counties, and states may choose to adopt a regulatory policy favorable to the sector in exchange for changes in the urban environment.
It would be a step too far to conclude that the fatality in Arizona only happened because the pedestrian was ‘jaywalking.’ But this has happened before: Jaywalking’s laws were virtually invented to turn streets into places for cars. Uber, Google, and other wealthy companies with high aspirations for autonomous driving may see this fatality as a sign that it is time to take legal protection seriously for their interests.