Autonomous cars to drive down insurance . . . but risk of more crashes in transition
Urgent call for government, stakeholders to share information and the plan for a new era of motoring
The era of autonomous driving should mean lower insurance premiums - but there is a real danger that accidents could increase in the changeover if we don't set up properly for the new era, a global expert warned in Dublin yesterday.
While we are talking many years down the road before we see substantial numbers of autonomous cars here, the extent of change that needs to be coordinated by the government on several fronts means we have to begin planning now.
Deeksha Joshi (pictured), Principal of Corporate Strategy and Research at Liberty Mutual, urged all 'stakeholders' - from car makers to legislators to insurance companies - to begin the process in earnest. We need, she said, to have a coordinated approach in the lead-in to a revolution in motoring.
And a key part of all that is wider sharing of information from all the different perspectives - starting now.
She told Independent Motors: "I believe safer (autonomous) cars will reduce the frequency of accidents. So that should mean help reduce premiums."
But she 'completely agreed' that accidents could increase in the intervening years where people aren't properly taught and inducted into the use of autonomous vehicles, or where the infrastructure hasn't been thought through properly.
Deeksha said we've to "think through" all the possibilities and requirements - from GPS availability in some areas to key questions about programming cars, to people knowing what to do when something goes wrong.
How cars are programmed will raise some of the thorniest issues for automakers, insurance companies and legislators.
For example: to what extent will one marque's software determine what the vehicle does in an emergency compared with another make?
Does it crash into a wall and risk the lives of its occupants or hit an oncoming cyclist on the basis of clinical digital calculation that fewer people risk injury or death in so doing? And who will subscribe to that?
Germany has already drawn up guidelines for that area and are helping clarify what sort of insurance product will be needed. "That's why it needs to be open dialogue."
Speaking on the fringes of the Liberty Insurance 'driving motor insurance reform' breakfast event in Dublin, she said: "We've got to think through all the permutations and the only way to do that is for all stakeholders to share information. We need to start thinking around the revolution."
Both helping and compounding that is the fact there won't be an overnight switch to autonomous cars. Different levels of autonomy will percolate through the system over time - they already are doing so. Many experts are forecasting 2040/45 will mark the widespread use of self-driving cars.
However, danger lurks in the intervening years when most vehicles are still being 'driven' but a growing minority are 'self-drive' - and when people are transitioning from one mindset to the next.
People will always want to drive their own car too and they must be accommodated in the blueprint. It's a "long journey" Deeksha admits, but we've got to start it now.