A view of the exhibitor area at Automated Vehicles Symposium 2015. The conference is the top forum for discussion of driverless technologies.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario -- August 6, 2015 -- Canadian AV expert Susan Spencer, Senior Associate at the Canadian Automated Vehicles Center of Excellence (CAVCOE), recently travelled to Ann Arbour, Michigan, for the Automated Vehicle Symposium, the key conference for those interested in the emerging automated vehicle (AV) market. Spencer brought back many interesting observations from her travels, and shared her insights in a recent interview with Collision Repair magazine.

One thing Spencer heard from participants was there seems to be almost universal acceptance among the population for AVs.

“It was interesting for me to learn that public acceptance is very high for these vehicles. The team from Google was talking about giving their self-driving car over to people who were not on the team. The response was very, very positive,” says Spencer. This is not typically the response when it comes to safety advances like, say, seatbelts.

“Often there are differences in acceptance among class, age or gender,” says Spencer. “But that doesn’t seem to be the case with AVs. Consumers are interested. There seems to be a universal acceptance.”

There is a lot of promise in this market. In Europe Citimobile is testing a fully automated bus, which could help save atrophied municipal public transport budgets. So the benefits are multiple, but there are still challenges to overcome. This is especially true in the areas of law and insurance.

When it comes to insurance there is one big and fascinating question: If the driver is no longer driving the car, who is at fault if there is an accident or injury?

“What do you insure for?,” asks Spencer. “The driver can’t be charged, because they aren’t driving. Are the OEMs then on the hook?” Spencer went on to suggest that the liability around auto insurance will shift from drivers toward manufacturers of these devices.

“The insurance industry will have to transition and change. Yes, there will still be some requirement for personal insurance. But the lions’ share of liability will shift up to the OEMs. The automakers will take on more responsibility …that’s where the experts were speculating there will have to be new types of insurance products offered,” says Spencer.

AVs could come with insurance wrapped up in the price of the car in the future. If it turns out that the liability of these vehicles is greater than what the car companies could carry, Spencer suggested some of the experts at the symposium said that governments or big reinsurers might have to step in to backstop the development of these vehicles.

“Governments will have to think about what happens if there are not sufficient funds in the pot for any massive suit that might bankrupt an OEM arising from AVs. It’s all very theoretical, very academic, but thought provoking,” she says. “It’s reflective of the insurance industry and how it is confronting these issues.”

She went on to say that, “I would suggest that in terms of our individual insurance broker for auto insurance…I think there’s going to be little work for them to do in the future. That’s based on some of the comments I’ve heard these experts saying. I heard that said at the conference. For the local insurance guy ... products will shift. Auto company offers you insurance as part of the auto sale. The local guy is no longer part of the equation.”

But Spencer doesn’t think there are any issues here big enough to stop the development of AVs. Overall she says, “My takeaway from the sessions was that, ‘Yes,’ there are challenges for the legal system in terms of how it will deal with complicated issues like liability in cases of fault. But this is not going to get in the way of introducing new technologies The legal system is always changing. There is cautious optimism that as we move forward the legal system will, through court action, be able to manage whatever happens in terms of liability.”

Power Point presentations from the sessions can be found at automatedvehiclessymposium.org/home


Preview Our Magazines