Drivers, companies adjusting to changes in car insurance due to autonomous vehicles

A recent survey asked Americans why they would buy an autonomous car and cheaper car insurance was second on the list:

Of the 1,500 US drivers the Boston Group surveyed in September, 55 percent said they “likely” or “very likely” would buy a semi-autonomous car (one capable of handling some, but not all, highway and urban traffic). What’s more, 44 percent said they would, in 10 years, buy a fully autonomous vehicle…

The leading reason people are considering semi-autonomous vehicles isn’t greater safety, improved fuel efficiency, or increased productivity—the upsides most frequently associated with the technology. Such things were a factor, but the biggest appeal is lower insurance costs. Safety was the leading reason people were interested in a fully autonomous ride, with cheaper insurance costs in second place. (Reasons not to want a robo-ride include fear of hacking, distrust of the technology, and good old love of driving.)

This is unexpected, because how insurance will shake out usually is on the “tricky things to be figured out” side of the ledger, alongside how the government will test and regulate the vehicles. The current insurance business model—car owner has insurance to protect himself from the risk of causing a crash—doesn’t make sense if the computer’s in charge. And if we can make cars that rarely crash, do we even need insurance? We certainly won’t need to spend as much on it (currently about $800 a year, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners)…

So yes, we’ll be rewarded financially for giving up the wheel. But in the long run, as fully autonomous cars take over our roads, the insurance companies will have to adapt. They can’t argue against saving lives, but “they’re very, very concerned,” says David Carlisle, chairman of the board of auto industry consultancy Carlisle & Company. “If the car can’t wreck anymore, those premiums have got to go down drastically.”

Sounds like a shake-up is coming for the car insurance industry. And if the business becomes a lot less profitable, how many firms will want to participate?

Another thought for those potential buyers of autonomous cars: how long would it take in car insurance savings to make up for the extra technology needed in the car? This could be like the current hybrid or electric car situation where the premium for such vehicles would take years in gas savings to cancel out.

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