Autonomous vehicle technology facing major challenges

Published: May 31, 2018

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones



Autonomous vehicles will one day be able to completely control a vehicle with zero passenger input. We are still years away from that, but already it is expected driverless cars will reduce collisions and change the auto insurance landscape. However, the road to that outcome is uncertain and current autonomous technology is off to a shaky start.

Current vehicles with autonomous systems only have autonomy in a limited fashion. In other words, the driver is still needed. Driver input will decrease over the coming years, but at the moment there seems to be an uneasy balance between human and machine. Uber was forced to chancel its driverless car program this month following a fatal accident. Meanwhile, Tesla has been rocked by a fatality involving one of its autonomous vehicles last year.

On the path to total vehicle autonomy, the biggest challenge the technology will face will be convincing customers to stick around through the rough patches. Yes, two fatalities are a fraction of the deaths caused by human error, but motorists are going to judge driverless vehicles with a stricter eye. The tech is being sold as a potential way to end deaths on roads, so problems along the way will be judged harshly.

For the insurance industry, questions still remain about how it will deal with growing vehicle autonomy. Who will assume liability, vehicle owner or manufacturer, how will insurers compete with tech companies and automakers offering their own insurance, and how will premiums and claims change as road deaths fall, are just some of the questions facing carriers.

David Williams, technical director for AXA told Insurance Business this week that insurers that invest in autonomy now will be best placed when more advanced technology arrives.

“If we’d taken the usual approach that insurers do, we’d be nowhere near ready,” said Williams, who is also chair of the Association of British Insurers’ (ABI) Autonomous Driving Insurance Group. “The wider market, and those that maybe aren’t paying attention, will potentially struggle,” he said.

“Currently, we rate you on age, occupation, those sort of things – that’s all out of the window. When the car is driving itself most of the time, it’s not just about understanding the principles of driverless cars, it’s understanding every single bit of kit,” Williams added. “The big problem we have is that we love data, history, and statistics – but we won’t have any of that.”