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How autonomous cars may change auto insurance

Autonomous cars are certainly a topic of great discussion at the moment in the automotive industry. A wide range of automakers have already unveiled various self-driving technologies, and many more are on the way. Moreover, more and more autonomous vehicles are expected out on the road in the next few years, and nothing indicates that they will be trending downward anytime soon.

Although most will agree that self-driving cars are a good thing, they still leave us with a few questions. Namely, how do we insure vehicles that can drive themselves? Today’s car insurance is based on the driver and how he or she behaves behind the wheel. With autonomous cars, the driver is theoretically less important in the equation with the quality and performance of the self-driving technology become paramount in preventing accidents and injuries.

So again, how will this change auto insurance?

In a white paper published last summer, the Association of British Insurers coined the term Autonomous Ambiguity in reference to how consumers don’t really understand autonomous technology and how it can pose a danger to driving safety in the short run.

In other words, there is a risk that drivers feel like they no longer play an active role in preventing accidents and being safe out on the road, and rather transfer those responsibilities to their vehicle. Automakers contribute to this without maybe even knowing it by praising their technologies and how they are amazing at driving vehicles autonomously, often at the expense of reminding consumers that they will still need to remain active and vigilant behind the wheel.

Also, it’s important to remember that for the better part of the next 10 or 15 years, autonomous cars with various degrees of self-driving possibilities will mingle with cars that have no self-driving abilities out on the road.

Many automakers have developed car-to-car communication systems in recent years as a way to improve safety, and on paper the technology makes sense. However, how do you implement it in an environment where not all cars can communicate their positions or doings with each other? And because autonomous driving technology depends largely on being able to recognize road markings and other reference points, how do you make the technology work in areas that get snow or other inclement weather frequently?

There are a lot of theories out there. One is that automakers will insure their own technology. This applies to fully autonomous vehicles that require no driver intervention and that won’t be here for at least another 10 years.

In the meantime, manufacturers are reminding their customers that even if their vehicles have self-driving possibilities, they must remain in control and aware of their surroundings, and that ultimately they are still responsible. In such a case, car insurance remains the same as well. In the next few years we may see rebates being offered to owners who buy vehicles with self-driving technology that improves safety, but the responsibility will always fall on the driver to avoid collisions.

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