“Self-driving cars” and “smart roads” used to be the stuff of science fiction movies and The Jetsons cartoons. However, prototypes for cars that will not need a human driver are already being tested in a broad range of states. Further, a number of states have begun implementing “smart roadways” that can communicate with vehicles. These technological innovations are being lauded as massive safety improvements. Supporters of these new technologies contend that these innovations can eliminate the risk of drunk, distracted, speeding, and otherwise careless drivers. While the prospect of getting unsafe drivers out from behind the steering wheel of motor vehicles is a welcome proposition, the prospect of “automation” of our transportation system raises some interesting insurance claims questions.
Will self-driven vehicles make auto insurance obsolete since negligent drivers will no longer be operating motor vehicles?
The only way auto insurance becomes obsolete is if smart cars and smart roads eliminate traffic accidents. Accidents around the country involving “Google Cars” and other self-driving vehicles suggest that these smart vehicles are a long way from becoming a fool-proof technology for eliminating collisions. Admittedly, the crashes reported to date involving these vehicles appear almost exclusively to be caused by a human driver in the other vehicle. However, there are scenarios where accidents would likely still occur even if neither of the “drivers” is responsible. The software or mechanical components in the vehicle might fail, which might make the vehicle or component manufacturer legally responsible based on product liability laws. If human drivers have the ability to override the automatic driving feature or to modify functions like maximum speed, human operators in the vehicle will still cause crashes. If “smart roadway” technology malfunctions, public entities that design, manufacturer or maintain the equipment might be liable.
Since the problem of hit-and-run and uninsured drivers is likely to become negligible will uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage still be worth purchasing?
Presumably, many states will require a human driver to be positioned in the driver seat and in position to assume control of the vehicle if an emergency or other situation warrants such a response. In fact, the self-driving feature might function like an auto-pilot function on an airplane that can be disabled. In this situation, the human driver taking control of the vehicle could be alcohol impaired or incompetent. Since the worst drivers face the highest insurance rates, they also account for a significant percentage of uninsured motorists. This type of trend is not likely to change although habitually unsafe drivers might be operating their vehicle less frequently. When an insurance claim is made against the vehicle or computer manufacturer, the need for uninsured/underinsured driver’s insurance might be less necessary because companies manufacturing and marketing self-driven cars should have sufficient insurance to satisfy personal injury and wrongful death claims.
How will policyholders and third parties with liability claims tend to fair in terms of compensation for car accidents involving smart cars and smart roadways?
Chances are that policyholders and third party claimants might actually be better off because the at-fault party will not be able to shift some of the blame to the other driver as easily. Currently, a driver who runs a red light and T-bones a vehicle at an intersection, for example, might claim that the other motorist was also at-fault because the injury victim was speeding. Claims of comparative negligence or even attempts to shift all blame to an injury victim would likely be uncommon once drivers are no longer in control of motor vehicles. Further, the issue of the responsible parties, such as the maker of the vehicles, roadway smart features, and smart car components having insurance to pay a claim would tend to be a non-issue.
How does the issue of computer hacking of vehicle control systems complicate insurance claims?
Admittedly, hackers will be somewhat like a hit-and-run driver currently because they are at-fault parties that cannot be identified in the wake of a crash. However, the party that designs the vehicle computer programs or security might all be held financially accountable for not taking sufficient steps to prevent hacking that results in a crash.
Although the prospect of communicating cars and roadways that no longer require human drivers still sounds a little disconcerting, auto insurance claims might become less problematic. However, the entities that will be responsible for these types of crashes will tend to be large corporations or public entities with extensive access to litigation resources. Further, it is too early to determine how insurance policies will adapt to self-driven vehicles to minimize the payment of claims, so policyholders can still expect to face bad faith practices.
Our Miami bad faith insurance law firm invites you to contact us if you are having difficulties with your insurance company. Florida insurance claims lawyer J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo handles claims against insurance companies in Miami and throughout Florida. The Law Firm of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A. offers free consultations and case evaluations. No Recovery, No Lawyer Fees. Call 305-461-1095 or Toll Free 1-866-71-CLAIM.