Canadian Underwriter

Don’t count on self-driving cars being just around the corner

May 29, 2019   by Greg Meckbach

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If you are led to believe most of your clients will get around in self-driving cars within a decade, you might want to think again.

“Autonomous vehicles will likely not be on our roads for at least another 25-30 years, and that is a conservative estimate,” said Kristine D’Arbelles, senior manager of public affairs for the Canadian Automobile Association, in an interview. She was referring to fully autonomous vehicles where no human is controlling the car.

A Google search of “self-driving sooner than you think” yields more than 25 million results. Topping the results are published reports suggesting that fully autonomous vehicles are coming “sooner than you think.”

An evolution to self-driving cars would change the insurance business model. The current auto insurance model is predicated on the notion that vehicle drivers and owners carry liability risk and that accidents are usually caused by bad driving.

A few years ago, some were saying that by 2021, we would have fully autonomous vehicles, suggested D’Arbelles. She predicts that when her son (who just turned four) has kids, those kids may not need driver’s licences when they grow up.

But there is a difference between the automated features on some of today’s vehicles (such as lane departure warning) and fully autonomous vehicles that do not have pedals or a steering wheel.

“That is where the lack of knowledge and confusion from Canadians comes from right now” D’Arbelles said.

A majority (83%) of Canadians is “just vaguely aware of what’s coming in autonomous vehicles,” she said.

Ottawa-based CAA, a federation of eight independent clubs, released Monday results of a poll in which about 2,000 Canadians were asked about autonomous vehicles. In the survey, conducted this past December, Canadians where asked both about autonomous vehicle benefits and about their concerns with autonomous vehicles.

When respondents were asked if they had concerns, the options they were given were hacking, unauthorized access by a third party to data, and accountability in the event of an accident. They were also given the choice of saying they had no concerns or they do not want to answer.

Fifty-nine percent said they were concerned about hacking, and 53% were concerned about the potential for third-party access to driver-generated data. Multiple responses were allowed. The results are considered accurate to within 2.2 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

D’Arbelles said she recently rented a car that had an advanced cruise control feature. Unlike traditional cruise control, the one on her rented car would slow the car down if the vehicle in front slowed down. “It’s not autonomous in the sense that I can sit back and start watching a movie and start playing with my phone,” she said. “I actually have to be fully aware of what’s going on around me.”

Ontario has had an automated vehicle pilot program for three years. But participants must ensure a human is able to bring the vehicle to a safe stop.

“Theoretically, there could be a fully autonomous vehicle ready to go on the road, but a lot of kinks have to be worked out before we are in a society where fully autonomous vehicles sort of take over our road,” D’Arbelles told Canadian Underwriter.

For example, roads will require traffic control signs and pavement markings that can be read not only by humans but also by the vehicle-borne computers.

There are various levels of vehicle autonomy. For example, the Society of Automotive Engineers defines Level 0 as having no automated features whatsoever while Level 5 means the vehicle can go at all times without human intervention.

SAE level 4 means the vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions. The driver may have the option to control the vehicle.

Level 3 means the vehicle manages most safety-critical driving functions but the driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times.

Level 2 means partial automation. At least two automated tasks are managed by the vehicle, but the driver must remain engaged with the driving task.

Level 1 means there are some features for driver safety and comfort and a human is required for all critical functions.

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1 Comment » for Don’t count on self-driving cars being just around the corner
  1. Mica Cooper says:

    These vehicles are operating in the USA. Iowa made them completely legal two years ago. ITC 2018 in Las Vegas had some Canadians taking rides to the airport in fully autonomous vehicles. There is still a human in the vehicle just in case. Point being, this is not 25 years off, it is now, and the opportunity to develop rating and underwriting is now. Volkswagen, Tesla, and others have already developed insurance programs, and have been approved.

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