Insurers join forces to prepare for driverless cars

12.00 | 21 January 2016 | | 10 comments

Britain’s leading car insurers have joined forces in response to concerns within the industry that the introduction of driverless cars could see premiums and profits slashed.

Aviva, Direct Line, Admiral, AXA, LV and Zurich are among the 11 founder members of the Automated Driving Insurance Group (ADIG), which is led by the Association of British Insurers (ABI). The ADIG is also seeking to establish who will be responsible in the event of a collision – the ‘driver’ or the vehicle manufacturer.

Self-driving cars are moving ever closer to becoming a reality in the UK. In October 2015, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) launched an £11 million research programme to help further the development of fully autonomous cars capable of operating safely on the UK’s roads.

A study by Thatcham Research suggests that autonomous cars could bring about a dramatic reduction in the number of collisions caused by human error, which could result in insurance premiums falling by up to 80% over the next 25 years.

James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the ABI, told the Telegraph: “Contrary to what some people might expect, insurers are not standing in the way of this development but actively looking to support progress and innovation.

“The role of motor insurance in such a future will be very different to what it is today, but insurance will be part of the picture.”

The Government has identified 2018 as the time to amend road traffic legislation to take into consideration autonomous vehicles, while the internet giant Google hopes to see fully autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020.


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    The manufacturers are trying to give the same legal status to cars as people. Sounds stupid, but a car has no assets, so no point suing. If the programme crashes, nobody responsible.

    Mr R scholes
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    Matt, I am sorry that you got the wrong end of the stick about my comments about autonomous cars and WRC drivers. The cars do not need to be the equal of a WRC before they are viable, but each of us is capable of making isolated driving decisions at somewhere near the competence of a WRC driver. However, I do grant you that most of us cannot string them all together with the his speed, but that is not the point. I do not want a computer that is almost as good as a human before I am going to trust it, I want it to be able to run rings around the average driver with one hand tied behind its back. There is little point in having a machine that on a good day can do almost as well as a human.

    As an example of what we can do versus a machine, let me cite ANPR cameras. I own two elderly BMW motorcycles with the characters on their number plates spread over three lines. ANPR cameras cannot read them; they can cope only with one, or two, lines of text despite it all being in the same standardised font. For this reason it is now illegal to have three line number plates. If a fairly expensive system such as ANPR cannot cope with this simple variation, then how far away are we from a camera that can read a farmer’s crude, home-made ‘Mud on road’ sign tucked into a hedge? All of us can see it, read it, absorb the potential implications, and react accordingly. Our driverless car is probably heading for the ditch in such a situation, unless the ‘occupant’ intervenes.

    What about a crash scene, or broken-down truck, with Police directing traffic around a vehicle in the road? Will our driverless car be able to interpret the hand signals of a copper in the road? I doubt it, and for this and all the other reason I cite, I see very little chance of humans becoming occupants as opposed to drivers.

    The human race fell in love with the car because it offered us the freedom to make journeys of any length when we wanted to, at a speed we wanted to move at (as long as it was within certain legal parameters). Suddenly we were free from having to sit next to people with dubious personal hygiene skills who wanted to engage us in conversation when on public transport. I cannot see us queueing up to buy cars that all bimble along at identical speeds. I say bimble along because if it is going to be permissible for me to turn up the wick a bit in my driverless car when I am late for an appointment, then we’ll have to teach it how to overtake on rural roads – that will be interesting! If there is market research that states that people are busting a gut to subjugate their freedom, then I have yet to see it. We need to remember that Joe Public sees himself as a much better than average driver, and therefore he sees these driverless cars as a good idea for the people who aren’t good drivers, but that is certainly not him.

    David, Suffolk
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    David, it is interesting you suggest that in order to be on the roads a driverless car should be as or more capable than a WRC driver, yet if that same rule was applied to humans 99.9% of people would not be able to drive on the roads.

    Similarly, while most motorcyclists may pick up the smell of spilled diesel could the same be said of drivers inside a car.

    I accept your points that it is not feasible to expect a human occupant to disengage from the driving task only to be “thrown in at the deep end” and this is probably the most significant barrier currently facing autonomous vehicles. My own opinion is that the human occupant should be seen as a “passenger” rather than a “fail-safe” and that the accompanying legislation and insurance liability should ultimately reflect this.

    Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire
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    Nick, you make an interesting point with your elderly rural resident and the sales rep. Flying planes is so much easier than driving cars: commercial pilots are highly trained, and only fly the types of plane they are qualified to, they are separated from others at the same height by huge distances, they submit flight plans, they are assisted by air traffic control, they meet no unqualified air users as we drivers do in the shape of cyclists & pedestrians, they have an experienced co-pilot who even eats different food, and the whole business is governed by stringent regulations. Holders of PPLs cannot fly willy-nilly through busy air lanes, neither are they even allowed to fly in the dark unless specifically qualified. The airline industry has had autopilots for years to accomplish the fairly simple task of flying at a set speed on a set heading, and even take off and land, yet it pays huge amounts of money to have a couple of humans sitting there ready and able to take over when the computer says ‘no’.

    I cannot foresee a time when cars will not need someone at the helm in a position to take over when it all goes wrong. That being the case, if your elderly rural resident is past driving, then they are past intervening when it goes wrong. Your tired rep will not be able to intervene once he has reclines his seat and put on his eye shades. Your elderly rural resident needs to take a taxi, and the rep needs to get a room for the night.

    We are a long way off a computer being able to be totally and utterly responsible for driving a vehicle in all the circumstances that we are happy to let a human take the wheel. If we ever get to that stage, then it will take a very brave person indeed to allow us to be ferried about by machines.

    If we ever allow cars to be driven without a human to potentially intervene, then it will logically be permissible for the cars to move around alone. If I am at the pub and too drunk to drive will I be able to summon my car to arrive and get me home? What if my friend does the same, and our two cars arrive simultaneously and fight over the one parking space outside the pub? If the road home is flooded, will the computer be able to guage the depth of water? If the car meets a large truck on a narrow road, will it be able to make a value judgement and put two wheels on the pavement to squeeze by? Will our car have a sensor to smell a Diesel spill when coming up to a roundabout in the dark? I can think of many situations in which the car will need a human to make an assessment.

    Yes. computers will make it ever easier and do more and more of the jobs, but I cannot see them ever being totally responsible for what the car does.

    David, Suffolk
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    Hugh and David
    Not sure I agree, in particular with the bit about autonomous driving being a vanity project.

    I can think of some situations where automated vehicles can have a useful role to play and potentially improve safety – elderly people who live in remote areas with no public transport and as such continue to drive beyond the point at which they are safe to do so, the exhausted sales rep making a long motorway journey home on a Friday afternoon, after a busy week on the road.

    Yes, there is a way to go before we get to the point where the technology can be introduced, but without the work being done at present we will never get there.

    And no one (as far as I’m aware) is saying that people who like driving will be forced to use an automated vehicle.

    Why not let these clever pioneering people progress with their work and see where it takes us, rather than dismissing it and them at this stage?

    Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News
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    I would suggest David’s comment be re-published every time this subject comes up, as it seems to hit the nail on the head in so many respects, particularly the bit about these vehicles being vanity projects. Perhaps the manufacturers may need to be reminded every now and again that a lot of use do actually like driving our cars ourselves and do so without incident!

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    For me, the concept of ‘driverless’ cars has limited appeal because I get a measure of satisfaction from driving well. There might however be some enjoyment in being able to treat a car journey in the same way as I treat a train journey, i.e. an opportunity to read the newspaper without interruption. However, knowing that I will have to remain vigilant in order to intervene should the car not be able to cope, as has happened on a few occasions with Google’s autonomous cars, would remove any pleasure, and probably make me feel quite edgy. To maintain concentration in case something goes wrong will probably be far more tiring than having to concentrate at a reasonable level all the time in my opinion. At present my effort in concentrating is frequently rewarded by instances when I tell myself that I knew such and such was going to happen and that my input enabled me to cope with it. With a ‘driverless’ car my concentration will probably be rewarded by nothing more than a tension headache.

    At present I cannot see any manufacturer stepping up to the plate and saying that they will shoulder all liability and cover the costs of any crash. It will take a very brave company indeed to display such faith in technology that is at present at a fairly rudimentary level. I cannot yet see the day when we will not need insurance to cover any shortcomings of either the vehicle, or ourselves when it comes to taking over if the car’s systems fail.

    I see the development of autonomous vehicles largely as vanity projects. It is being done merely because it can be done, not because a large part of the target market wants it. Only when ‘drivers’ can jump into an autonomous car to come home legless from the pub with no adverse consequences whatsoever can I see people adopting the technology. Can anybody imagine an autonomous motorcycle finding many buyers? Is there yet an aeroplane maker who has such faith in his autopilot that they have done away with pilots? If there was, would you be in the queue to be a passenger? Remember that flying planes is far less complicated that driving cars.

    I think that the media is more than a few steps ahead of the technology as it stands at present. It presents us with a Utopian notion of driverless cars, when the reality is that at the moment we are still having to intervene and take control in relatively uncomplicated environments.

    I might be interested when the technology has reached the stage when a driverless car can get through a rally stage as quickly and competently as a WRC driver. That is what a human is capable of, and unless and until a computer can not only match that, but improve on it, I can see very little motivation for me to buy into the concept.

    David, Suffolk
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    Insurance liability is an obvious issue. Driverless cars will have to interact with manually driven vehicles for decades, along with non-robotised pedestrians and cyclists. It’s mainly the political class that are enthusiastic about driverless cars – an agenda to ban driving perhaps? More and more automation is being fitted to vehicles, so the ability for vehicles to be self-driving is a logical step, but I just hope the option to take manual control isn’t removed.

    Paul Biggs, Tamworth
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    What cost an autonomous vehicle if the manufacturer or computer company has to pay for the insurance? Will they need to insure every year and if so will the cost be passed on through a mandatory service. If you arrive at your destination will you get the message “please do not turn off upgrade loading” and then miss your appointment whilst sitting in the vehicle? I have tried some variants of driverless cars with hands free parking and lane control but was concerned when the driver needed to take control when the car could not identify if the vehicle in front had stopped in traffic or was parked. There is still a long way to go and I think unless there are great leaps in the systems 2020 will pass by.

    Peter City of Westminster
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    Fascinating. What costs more to insure? A driverless car? or a young teenager?

    Are we ready for the self-driving car?

    Gareth, Surrey
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