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Driverless Cars Charging Ahead

May 29, 2014
3 mins
Professional couple in grey vehicle

The self-driving car (SDC) movement continues to garner worldwide attention. Google is still leading the charge and recently introduced a new prototype of their driverless car that doesn't have a steering wheel or pedals. Initially, 100 test vehicles will be built in Detroit, with all powered by electricity and designed to travel about 160 kilometres before charging. The car itself, with headlights and sensors arrayed to resemble a friendly 'Googley' face, is limited to 25 mph speeds and could easily be used to shuttle people around a corporate campus or congested downtown area.

Google's other self-driving fleet of Toyota Priuses and Lexus models have already logged more than 700,000 miles while trying to master city driving in and around Mountain View, so far accident-free. Actually, there were two minor incidents but both were due to human error not to software mishaps. That a software glitch is possible and accidents may occur still remains a big issue for the SDC builders, owners, operators and of course, other motorists and passengers.

That's an issue being worked through now by California's Department of Motor Vehicles as they begin publishing regulations (scheduled for release in the summer of 2015) that allow the public to use driverless cars. The DMV is still not certain who is liable if a driverless car crashes and more importantly if an automated car will be able to drive as safely as a licenced motorist.

Volvo, another big player in the SDC industry, expects to have vehicles street ready by 2017 and have test cars already capable of handling lane following, speed adaption and merging in traffic. What's more is that Volvo has already established that when an autonomous car is being manually driven, the driver will be at fault in an accident. But if the vehicle is in autonomous mode and it causes a crash, Volvo will take responsibility.

In all likelihood, Volvo's legal team and insurance consultants did a fair bit of work to arrive at that conclusion. Others are still doing their research. In fact, insurance companies estimate that an automated vehicle will likely transmit upwards of 750 megabytes of data each minute and actuaries will have to use that information to find the predictive variables to determine if potential accidents are likely.

Robert Peterson, a professor of law at Santa Clara University, told Claims Journal that state insurance laws will have to be revised to accommodate new autonomous vehicles because numerous factors used by insurers such as driving record, number of years as a driver, and safe driving discounts may no longer apply.

It's been pointed out by insurers and car manufacturers that human error contributes to more than 90 percent of all auto accidents. Most of the accounts so far show that driverless cars will reduce the amount of accidents substantially and therefore, lower the cost of insurance premiums. Even more of a revelation is that industry experts have already estimated that insurance rates could drop by as much as $475 per year. We'll likely have a much better idea and a much different estimate by the time the first self-driving cars hit the road in 2017.

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