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En route to a driverless future?

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The Government recently announced driverless cars will be allowed to be tested on our roads from as early as this coming January. It’s a move which has prompted lots of speculation and has posed some important questions, many for the insurance industry.

Driverless cars are likely to be popular in congested cities for economic and environmental reasons. However, one of the fundamental reasons the motor manufacturing industry is so diverse and exciting is because it is fuelled by the basic human desire for independence and travel. I’d question whether the idea will be accepted by many, who enjoy driving themselves from A to B .

Significant legislative changes will be required to cater for the new technology. There’s firstly the issue of liability - we may see cars being insured rather than the driver, but this isn’t a new idea – just look at ‘any driver’ policies, and you’ll see it’s the vehicle that’s covered. We also need to ask how those under the influence of alcohol or sleeping ‘at the wheel’ would be treated in a driverless car in the event of an accident? Being capable of being ‘in control’ of a vehicle is a basic requirement of road safety, and this is unlikely to change.

Situations involving a driverless car and a standard car would still be resolved through the driver’s insurance in each case. However, I can envisage a scenario where a driverless car owner may take issue with the manufacturer in the event of an avoidable incident.

It's too early to say whether driverless cars of the future will be cheaper to insure, as we have no hard evidence to suggest the technology is absolutely fool-proof. As long as humans are in the driving seat, there is always risk, regardless of whether they take the wheel or not. So, we may be en-route to a driverless future, but insurance is likely to still be very much a part of the journey.

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