3 Ways Self-Driving Cars Will Impact Everything (Sooner Than You Think)

The impact of self-driving cars includes (1) manufacturer liability for accidents, (2) reduction in distracted driving and car insurance claims, and (3) new safety features.

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Zaneta Wood, Ed.S. has over 15 years of experience in research and technical writing bringing a keen understanding of data analysis and information synthesis to reach a wide variety of audiences. She studied adult education and instructional technology at Appalachian State University as well as technical and professional communication at East Carolina University. Zaneta has prepared technical p...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP®

UPDATED: Jan 22, 2021

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Here's what you need to know...

  • As vehicles become more autonomous, manufacturers will likely have to assume liability in crashes
  • The current laws will have to change to be relevant to innovations in autonomous technology
  • The insurance industry will likely see a major drop in revenue as the need for insurance decreases

The autonomous vehicle industry is growing through innovation, practical use, and perfecting of flaws. Have you considered the impact on car insurance and liability?

Liability in autonomous vehicle crashes is new territory and the future is uncertain. As of yet, all crashes involving self-driving cars have been settled out of court.

As these vehicles become more advanced and more mainstream, lawmakers, insurance companies, and those responsible for the self-driving technology are going to have to figure out how technology will be handled.

Don’t be confused by terms like driverless, autonomous, and self-driving; these terms are often used interchangeably. Driveless and autonomous are the clearest of the terms and are the final frontier. They indicate a car that doesn’t require input from humans.

These vehicles will cause the largest shift in legislature, regulations, and liability coverage.

Self-driving is the broadest term. Self-driving has the idea of driverless built into its meaning, but there are self-driving cars on the road today that aren’t fully driverless — requiring input from drivers.

Currently, insurance is pretty straightforward, and just about everywhere in the U.S., you have to carry coverage on any car you own. Find the best rates by using our comparison tool above. Enter your zip code to get started.

#1 – Self-Driving Cars Will Require a Shift in the Laws

Because driverless vehicles are new and unproven, any time one of them is involved in a crash, the crash is analyzed, scrutinized, and evaluated by several investigating agencies and the public.

It makes logical sense that the manufacturer of the autonomous vehicle would be at fault if a crash was determined to be the vehicle’s fault.

There are hurdles to get to this point, though, because currently, the way the law reads, the human driver is responsible for the vehicle actions and must take over control to prevent an accident when necessary.

As autonomous vehicles are developed without the option of a human driver takeover, the law will have to be updated to fit reality.

California is paving the way for autonomous vehicle legislation as they have been one of the first states to welcome and encourage self-driving vehicles. Manufacturers pushed for a law that would remove liability from them if the vehicle hadn’t been maintained to their specs.

This law did not pass because of the counter view that the manufacturer should be liable if the crash was due to a bad code. A sensor may be dirty as a result of not following the maintenance specs, but if that wasn’t the cause of the crash, the manufacturer should still liable.

Another hurdle will be determining fault if the vehicle is semi-autonomous. Was the crash a result of driver error or technology error?

Often, the first thought people have after an autonomous vehicle is involved in a crash is that a human driver could have avoided it. The reality is that while that may be the case, sometimes a crash is unavoidable regardless of who or what is driving.

The autonomous Uber vehicles versus pedestrian fatality in Arizona, recently, appears to have been one such unavoidable (on the part of the Uber vehicle and the backup human driver) accident.

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#2 – Self-Driving Cars Will Change the Car Insurance Industry

Auto insurance currently is the largest branch of the insurance industry. As liability shifts to the makers of autonomous vehicles, the need for private auto insurance will diminish.

Even in vehicles that are only semi-autonomous, the insurance rates for liability should drop significantly as the risk of accidents drops.

Here are some statistics that show how autonomous vehicles are predicted to improve safety and in turn, the insurance industry:

  • Nine percent – Distracted driving is found to be the cause of nine percent of crashes. One goal of self-driving manufacturers is to eliminate distracted driving completely.
  • Ninety percent – The Eno Center for Transportation has predicted that if 90 percent of vehicles were highly autonomous, 21,700 deaths could be avoided every year.
  • Ten percentBy 2035, nearly 10 percent of vehicles are predicted to be fully autonomous, and some believe these vehicles will be owned not by individuals but by companies. Each car would be used by many individuals in a day. Private auto insurance would be unnecessary.
  • Twelve and a half percent – Harvard Business Review predicts a 25 billion dollar loss in a 200 billion dollar industry by 2035.

Comprehensive coverage would continue to be necessary for car owners who wish to protect themselves from the financial loss resulting from damage from acts of nature and vandalism and other non-collision events.

But even with the continuing need for this coverage, the overall need for insurance and the decreased cost for insurance as the risk of accidents declines (as predicted) will result in a significant loss to the insurance industry.

The good news for insurers is that the shift to semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles will not happen overnight. This slow change should give insurance companies time to plan for and absorb the loss.

#3 – Advancing Car Technology Could Save You Money Today

Right now, you still have to carry insurance for vehicles you own. Nothing has changed there.

If you purchase one of the increasing numbers of vehicles manufactured with standard safety features and driver assistance options, you should see an immediate decrease in coverage costs because your risk of an accident should be significantly lower.

Some of these driver assistance options include:

There are hundreds of companies that offer car insurance products. And we have a free and easy way to compare quotes to find the best insurer for your needs. Enter your zip code below to compare today.

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