Autonomous vehicle choices will impact liability risks

Published: March 25, 2018

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones

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With autonomous vehicle in the spotlight, a recently released report from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) has highlighted the impact driverless vehicles will have on personal risk and liability insurance.

Looking at the effects of automation and artificial intelligence, the report has become more pertinent in the wake of a fatality caused by an Uber self-driving vehicle. Last week, an Uber vehicles hit a woman crossing an Arizona road after the autonomous technology failed to detect the pedestrian.

The Allianz report, titled “The Rise of Artificial Intelligence: Future Outlook and Emerging Risks”, shows self-driving cars will be the main aspect of AI innovation in the coming years. Indeed, by 2030, autonomous vehicles would have penetrated the market with 5% global vehicle sales and will enjoy annual growth of 40% between 2025 and 2035.

While proponents of the technology point to its potential to save lives, errors along the way will likely cause public caution. Over 95% of all road fatalities are caused by human error, so autonomous vehicles could drastically lower collision rates and injuries. However, safety concerns surrounding the technology mean a single incident like the one in Arizona will be compounded.

The Allianz report tackles one of the moral dilemmas that has risen around autonomous vehicles. In a hypothetical scenario, a self-driving vehicle would choose to run over three pedestrians rather than cause the fatality of its passenger. There is no universal principle, so each autonomous system will work to the developer’s specifications.

Under the scenario above, there is no obvious winner. Human nature would suggest a driver would opt to save themselves, whereas manufacturers would have to program AI to save the lives of the three pedestrians and not the passenger. Would vehicle owners be happy occupying a vehicle that would choose to end their life in a worst case scenario?

“Personal risk and liability coverage will be needed to protect passengers from autonomous vehicles making decisions that, even if taken according to design, turn against the driver,” the report said. “Seemingly, new product liability coverages will be needed to protect manufacturers against undesired autonomous vehicles’ decisions that damage either passengers, pedestrians, or goods.”