A Washington Examiner article appeared in my Insurance Journal feed earlier this week raising one of the most interesting questions I’ve seen in a long time and that is, “If two self-driving cars get into an accident, whose insurance covers the damage?” I’m not aware of that happening yet, but it probably will happen. After all, the software that guides these vehicles is still being shaped as both human developers and artificial intelligence, and both are discovering things they may not have considered. There are two scenarios that give us a hint as to the possible answer.
Human Driver Control: The technology available in new cars is amazing. There are a host of standard capabilities and many options to assist the human driver including automatic braking, start / stop cruise control, blind spot and lane departure warning, smart headlights, and more. Tesla has an autopilot feature and several companies are testing completely autonomous vehicles.
There is still, however, the expectation the human occupying the driver’s seat is supposed to pay attention and be prepared to take over if the system fails to respond to a situation. In a case such as this, most industry experts believe if the human “driver” has control of the vehicle at the time of the accident, then their car insurance will be responsible for paying the claim.
Fully Autonomous Control: This assumption can also swing the opposite direction if the human driver has ceded control to fully autonomous mode. If an accident happens when the vehicle is in fully autonomous control, then the human driver’s car insurance will probably not be responsible. This should fall under a product liability claim and could become the responsibility of the car manufacturer, the software company or any other system component that failed to avoid the accident.
Ultimately the issue of who’s at fault and will be responsible hasn’t been fully decided. Assigning responsibility will fall under the jurisdiction of legislators and the courts and that hasn’t been addressed yet. Most experts and legislators agree accidents and related injuries and deaths should fall as autonomous driving capability becomes mainstream, however, we have a several years before we see the tipping point arrive.
Until then, I advise, be prepared to take control back from your car if your vehicle has this type of technology on board and carry appropriate car insurance limits. What do you think? Share your thoughts, questions, and experiences with me on my Facebook, Google +, and LinkedIn pages. I’d love to hear from you!