Canadian Underwriter

How driverless vehicles may make crash injuries worse

October 1, 2018   by Jason Contant

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The severity of some accidents may increase as vehicles become driverless, in part because driver orientation will change, a crash reconstructionist told Canadian Underwriter in an interview last week.

Currently, drivers are sitting in their seats, properly belted with their headrest in the proper position, looking straight ahead. But imagine a situation in which there are no “drivers,” just pods – small vehicles that have no steering wheels, gas or brakes – and everybody is turned towards the middle.

In a fully automated vehicle, when an accident occurs, a person could be turned sideways to have a conversation with somebody else. Whereas in the past they may have only suffered minor injuries in a crash, in a driverless vehicle, “now you can be catastrophically injured just because you are in a different orientation from the way a vehicle is designed,” said Sami Shaker, physicist and client relations manager with Kodsi Forensic Engineering.

“I think each bodily injury claim is going to increase because people are not going to be seated in a normal position.”

Shaker will discuss driverless vehicles and potential insurance implications this month during a BIP Talk. He will speak during a session titled The Driverless Frontier at the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO) Convention in Niagara Falls Oct. 17.

Part of Shaker’s discussion will revolve around the evolution of “black boxes,” or event data recorders, which record information related to vehicle accidents. Black boxes are now beginning to record more information, Shaker said, including semi-autonomous features such as forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.

“It’s almost like the black box could potentially start becoming the brain behind the driverless vehicle,” Shaker said. “It’s being fed all the data from these various sensors and could be an integral part of the driverless vehicle.”

Self-driving vehicles coming down the pipeline are also starting to have pedestrian detection systems, Shaker reported. “It’s very possible that we’ll have pedestrian detection potentially recorded in vehicle black boxes.”

Insurance itself will fundamentally change as driverless vehicles develop, Shaker believes. It will probably become more of a subscription model for a consumer and a transportation company, such as Uber. For example, a driver could get access to a driverless vehicle/pod anytime they want (similar to Netflix, where you get access to a show or movie anytime you want without owning a copy of that show/movie).

Insurance would be limited to the times when the coverage is needed.

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