As the government prepares for the possible arrival of driverless cars on UK roads later this year, it has recommended a list of changes to the Highway Code designed to accommodate this type of vehicle.
Under the proposed updates, users of autonomous cars will be allowed to watch TV from an infotainment system while the vehicle is in self-driving mode as long as they are ready to take back control when prompted.
The use of mobile phones while driving, however, remains illegal because unlike built-in screens, which can be stopped from displaying content when a motorist is required to regain control of the vehicle, there is no technology yet that can turn off mobile devices when such need arises.
The government also recommended that users of driverless cars not be held responsible for crashes, transferring liability instead to insurance companies.
The Department for Transport (DfT) described the proposals as an “interim measure to support the early adoption of the technology” until a full regulatory framework is put in place by 2025.
In April last year, the government announced that hands-free driving in vehicles with automated lane-keeping technology (ALKT) will be allowed on UK roads. ALKT enables a self-driving car to travel in a single lane at speeds of 37mph, while maintaining the ability to transfer control to the driver when required.
According to the DfT, existing technology in an autonomous vehicle is “assistive,” meaning the motorist should always be able to retain control.
What do UK motorists think about driverless cars?
But while the government irons out measures for the seamless introduction of autonomous vehicles on the country’s roads, most UK drivers are not ready to embrace the technology just yet.
A recent online survey conducted by Express.co.uk revealed that an overwhelming majority (94%) of the 2,131 respondents answered “no” when asked: “Do you trust self-driving cars?” Only 4% of those polled said “yes,” while the rest were not sure.
One respondent commented: “Would I trust one? Not in a million years. If my smartphone or computer has a glitch (which they do daily) it's a minor annoyance. If an autonomous car does the same, it could kill somebody.”
“The greater the complexity of the system the more probable there will be a failure,” wrote another. “So, when considering how artificial intelligence in autonomous cars is still relatively in its infancy and given the track record to date, my answer is a RESOUNDING NO!”
The news outlet’s findings mirror those of specialist insurance brokerage Adrian Flux’s 2015 survey, which found that 70% of Brits thought they would never own a self-driving car. Only 5% of respondents said they would embrace the technology once it rolls out, while almost a quarter were undecided.
“I like being in control” and “I enjoy driving too much” were the top two reasons hindering motorists from owning an autonomous vehicle, according to the poll. The risk of hacking came in third.
Top five questions about driverless cars insurance answered
According to the government, the adoption of self-driving technology could “improve road safety across Britain by reducing human error, which is a contributory factor in 88% of all recorded road collisions.”
It added that the development of autonomous vehicles could create an estimated 38,000 new jobs and be worth £41.7 billion to the UK economy by 2035. But with all these benefits, the issue of what coverage options will be available for owners of this type of vehicle remain. Here are the answers to the top five questions motorists have about driverless car insurance.
1. How will insurance for driverless cars work?
Although self-driving cars have yet to hit UK roads, the government has already passed a bill outlining regulations for the insurance of these type of vehicles.
Under the Automated and Electric Vehicles (AEV) Act 2018, a person who is injured or whose property is damaged in a collision involving a vehicle “driving itself” can pursue a claim against the car insurance company, which is directly liable for the damage. Once it has settled a claim, the insurer may then recover the cost from the vehicle manufacturer.
Another key element of the bill is that users of autonomous cars who were not “physically driving” at the time of an accident can also file a claim against the insurance provider as a passenger, which enables them to receive compensation for the injuries they sustain. This is in contrast to how standard car insurance works, where policyholders are typically not allowed to make claim even if the accident was due to component failure or faulty servicing.
However, an owner could still be held accountable for a collision, even if a self-driving vehicle is in autonomous mode, if it happens because of their failure to understand the technology and operate the car correctly. One instance is when they fail to install necessary software updates.
2. What does driverless car insurance cover?
Adrian Flux, the first in the UK to offer insurance for self-driving vehicles, said that such policies should cover car owners against “a whole host of modern problems,” including faulty software, corrupted downloads, patchy satellite coverage, and firewall failures.
Here is a list of what the company’s driverless car insurance plan covers:
- Loss or damage to the car caused by hacking or attempted hacking of its operating system or other software
- Updates and patches to the autonomous vehicle’s operating system, firewall, and mapping and navigation systems that have not been successfully installed within 24 hours of being notified by the manufacturer
- Satellite failure or outages that affect the self-driving car’s navigation systems
- Failure of the manufacturer’s software or failure of any other authorised in-car software
- Loss or damage caused by failing when able to use manual override to avoid an accident in the event of a software or mechanical failure
Adrian Flux’s driverless car insurance also provides the coverage that its standard auto policies offer, including:
- Comprehensive, third party, fire, and theft cover levels
- Cover for displaying the car at shows or rallies
- Up to £400 cover for in-car entertainment or navigation systems
- £500 cover for replacing car keys, locks, and alarms if the keys are stolen
3. What does self-driving car insurance not cover?
One of the instances that can void coverage for autonomous cars is if the owner fails to update the software required for the vehicle to operate optimally. Another is when the car owner makes unauthorised alterations to the actual vehicle and software.
4. Will self-driving cars reduce insurance costs?
According to Compare the Market, until driverless cars become fully legal on UK roads, it is impossible to say how much they will impact insurance costs. The price comparison website notes, however, that it is also possible that self-driving vehicles may result in lower premiums.
“Avoidable accidents account for around 94% of all claims,” the site explained. “It's thought that reducing human error will lead to fewer accidents. If that's true, insurance providers will probably reward owners with a reduction in their premium.”
5. How will driverless cars impact the auto insurance industry?
The Windscreen Company Group, a windscreen repair and replacement specialist, predicts that after an initial hike in premiums because of the new technology, rates will drop as adoption becomes more mainstream. However, this comes with a caveat for the insurance industry.
“[This] could leave insurers making less money from car and vehicle insurance, something they will no doubt offset elsewhere,” the firm noted.
Insurance giant Zurich, meanwhile, expects the introduction of driverless vehicles to also have an effect on the shifting trends in vehicle ownership.
“Patterns of vehicle ownership are already starting to change,” the company explained. “Increasing numbers of new vehicles are being acquired via personal contract purchase or similar arrangements, rather than bought outright or on finance. With fully autonomous vehicles likely to be expensive, and hardware and software upgrades set to add to the cost, the trend towards leasing could accelerate.”
The insurer added that the situation could lead to the insurance model shifting from issuing policies to individuals toward a fleet or business-to-business model, with manufacturers providing the coverage to companies as part of a wider package of services with the vehicle.