Insurance Academy

3 Key Activities to Prepare for Autonomous Vehicles

By Patrick Wraight | Academy Journal Blog | May 10, 2017

This week’s post has been something of a struggle for me. I’ve had to catch up on a lot of terminology and the progress that has been made in the autonomous vehicle world. In way, it has always seemed like autonomous vehicles have been way out west and not an issue for me. I somehow felt like it was still an academic discussion for me in Florida. Thank you, Internet, for shattering that bit of self-deception. Not only are autonomous vehicles way out in some far away state, they’re here. Let me help you. They’re probably where you are in some way or another.

It occurred to me that as insurance and risk management people, we need to do some research into this topic so that we can properly help our customers with it. The exposure is real and it is growing. Like Pandora’s box, once you open the lid on a new technology, you can’t close it. It’s out there and the only reason that it will go away is when it fades into obsolescence. As is often the case, we insurance people need to become conversant with more than just limits, deductibles and policy language, we need to understand our customers. Here are three aspects of autonomous vehicles that you need to research and become familiar with because before you know it, your customers are going to be asking you about it.

Get to know the language. When you read the words autonomous vehicles, what images come into your mind? If you’re like me, you picture a fleet of cars without controls, people riding in vehicles, having breakfast on the way to work or reading, maybe using the vehicle’s integrated wireless connection to the internet to get a jump start on their work day. Yet, that isn’t exactly the case. In reality, according to some articles, there has been a level of automation in vehicles for years. You may have a vehicle that has a degree of autonomy. Don’t buy it? What about those vehicles that have active impact avoidance systems? Some vehicles can parallel park themselves. I watched a video the other day of an electric car that has a parking mode. It drives around parking lots and finds a parking space and parks itself. None of these vehicles can drive themselves, but they have a degree of autonomy. Here’s something that I recently learned about. There is a trucking company in Florida that calls their trucks autonomous because the driver is remote piloting the truck from a warehouse. Learn what autonomous can mean.

This is a good place to discuss the levels of autonomy, as defined by SAE.

Level 0 – complete human control

Level 1 – driver assistance (like cruise control)

Level 2 – more driver assistance (like assisted braking or accident avoidance)

Level 3 – conditional autonomy (the car drives itself, but can be human controlled)

Level 4 – near autonomy (no human control)

Level 5 – complete autonomy

Get to know the players. We hear about certain companies making big splashes in this space. There are stories about Google, Uber, and Apple all getting into the autonomous vehicle space. They really are working on it. What about the traditional auto manufacturers? Chrysler has partnered with Waymo to deploy self-driving minivans. GM is testing self-driving technology in their all electric Bolt. Ford recently reported that they are planning to skip level 3 self-driving technology in favor of level 4 self-driving technology. They contend that the level 3 technology can be a problem because of the issues that can arise with the hand off between human and vehicle control and back.

Get to know the laws. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states already have legislation related to autonomous vehicles. This year alone, 33 states have introduced legislation of some sort. That probably includes your state. What do the laws in your state look like? I don’t exactly pay close attention to what’s going on in Tallahassee, but I usually feel generally aware of the legislation that impacts insurance. I had no idea that Florida had a law on the books that defined autonomous vehicles. This year, the legislature took up a law to revise that definition and provide clarity to the law. Here’s an interesting sentence. “Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, when an autonomous vehicle as defined in s. 316.003 is operating in autonomous mode, the autonomous technology as defined in s. 316.003 shall be deemed to be validly licensed as required by this section.” This lays responsibility on the vehicle when operating itself. That begs the insurance question? Who is the insured if the vehicle causes an accident or if the vehicle is involved in an accident? These are the issues that are coming out today as states begin to decide how to handle this question. After laws are passed, the states will need to involve the department of motor vehicles to administer how these vehicles are deployed on the same streets that we drive on.

Next time you’re out driving, pay attention to the other drivers out there. Soon enough, you’ll be passing a family on the highway that is enjoying a quiet minivan picnic on their way to Spring Break.

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Latest Comments

  • October 16, 2017 at 9:52 pm
    Genevieve says:
    Do you have any video of that? I'd like to find out some additional information.857
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