2016 was a very eventful year for the auto insurance and car industries. From the advancement of self-driving vehicles to an insurtech boom and a new transportation secretary—a lot happened in the past 12 months. Here is a recap of the 10 biggest events that occurred in 2016.
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1. The first “self-driving car” death occurred.
In May, a driver traveling in a Tesla Model S on autopilot mode—a SAE Level 2 automated vehicle—died when the car crashed into a tractor-trailer in Florida. Neither the autopilot or the driver distinguished a white tractor-trailer against the bright sky and the car collided with the vehicle, killing the driver Joshua Brown. This event was widely reported as the first self-driving car death. Of course, the Tesla Model S is not a fully autonomous self-driving car—those will not be available for years—and the drivers are still required to be prepared to take over the Tesla when necessary. There were also reports that an earlier January crash occurred in China. A Tesla Model S on autopilot mode collided with a street sweeper on the highway, instantly killing the driver. The May event was the first U.S. autonomous-related car death and both collisions raised concerns worldwide about self-driving vehicle safety and the need for increased regulation and public education.
2. The insurtech boom continued to grow.
Insurtech has been a hot topic in recent years and that trend continued in 2016. Investments in insurtech topped $1 billion in the first six months of 2016 alone. More deals were made in the third quarter and the final numbers will likely show that it’s been another successful year for the insurtech market. There are many different forms of insurtech available now—new modes of telematics, car insurance marketplaces and startups with unique insurance pricing models.
Some insurtech companies like Metromile are turning the traditional insurance model on its head with pay-per-mile or pay-as-you-go coverage. Others like Root Insurance are appealing to a specific consumer segment—those who are good drivers—while some companies are developing telematics that work along with traditional car insurance. Insurtech continued to grow and innovate the industry this year and we’ll likely see more of its expansion in 2017.
3. Traffic fatalities jumped up 10%.
The NHTSA announced preliminary findings that traffic deaths were up 10.4% in the first half of 2016 over the same time period in 2015. There were 17,775 people who died in the first six months of this year—1,165 more people than the first half of 2015 and 17.7% more traffic fatalities than in 2014. The final numbers for all of 2016 won’t be announced until next year. Due to these scary percentages, the NHTSA and NSC announced a new Road to Zero coalition that aims to decrease and eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries in the next thirty years. While the coalition’s goal may seem aggressive, more deaths are occurring on the roads and no one wants to see the number increase. With a greater economy, more drivers are out on the road and more drivers are also driving distracted. Drivers are using their phones to text, use the internet or play apps such as Pokémon GO or Snapchat behind the wheel and the results can be deadly.
4. Car sharing and ridesharing continued to take off.
Car sharing services continued to grow in 2016. Ridesharing is now a common everyday term and more riders are choosing to take a trip with networks of cars. This is likely the first step to a future of shared mobility. Uber has nearly 16 million monthly active users and Lyft has also grown over the past year. It’s not only ridesharing companies seeing increased use, other car sharing companies with business models similar to Zipcar have expanded this year. Shared mobility is expected to be the far-off future of transportation and its foundations continued to grow in 2016.
5. Uber began testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh.
In September, Uber announced they would begin testing their automated cars in Pittsburgh. Albeit testing their self-driving cars with two engineers present, with one taking notes and one acting as a backup operator to take over the car whenever necessary. This testing showed the advancement of self-driving cars and while there is still a lot of work to be done, progress is occurring. Uber also expanded some of the self-driving cars to San Francisco in December and faced a backlash from the California DMV over their lack of adherence to state law. Uber’s autonomous cars have sparked concerns about the lack of standardized legislation for self-driving vehicles.
6. Michigan became the first state with a comprehensive self-driving car policy.
In December, Michigan became the first state to release comprehensive self-driving car legislation. While other states like California or Nevada have had self-driving car laws, Michigan’s laws are more comprehensive and statewide. The state legalized driverless cars with or without a driver and made it legal for vehicle testing without a steering wheel or brake pedal. The laws also regulate self-driving car use on public roads and allow for the testing of larger networks of autonomous vehicles.
7. Insurers released more digital and usage-based insurance offerings.
In 2016, more auto insurers caught onto consumer preferences and offered more digitization of policies with mobile apps. Drivers could now view all their policy information digitally in one place, easily accessed by their mobiles phones. Some providers’ apps even streamline the claims process with step-by-step guidelines so that drivers can submit a claim right away. Carriers also expanded their UBI offerings in 2016 to match consumers’ interest in UBI and the need for increased personalization in auto insurance. Usage-based insurance gives consumers more control over their rates as their insurance premium is influenced by their driving behaviors. That type of transparency in pricing is what consumers want, and 2016 was a big year for that.
8. The 2016 election led to a new Secretary of Transportation.
In November, President-elect Donald Trump chose Elaine L. Chao to be the next Secretary of Transportation. What will this mean for the car and auto insurance industries? Elaine Chao has already shown friendliness toward the sharing economy of cars, though her stance on self-driving vehicles is not yet known. A new transportation secretary comes at a pivotal time, with technologies in development that may alter how Americans drive. It will be noteworthy to see if Chao advocates more for drivers and riders or for the car manufacturing companies and new mobility choices. How Elaine Chao responds to these pressing issues will also affect the car insurance industry, as any changes in semi- or fully autonomous vehicles and shared mobility will filter out to auto insurance providers.
9. The federal government proposed self-driving car guidelines.
In September, the U.S. Department of Transportation released their Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. This was momentous as it was the first marker of federal support for driverless cars. In the policy, the government asked states to avoid over-regulating autonomous cars as that may hinder their advancement and cause confusion across state lines. The policy encourages states to allow DOT to regulate performance alone and the guidelines also asked for input from car manufacturers and other organizations. Additionally, the guidelines suggest a process for autonomous vehicle regulation with a 15-point safety-assessment evaluation. While these guidelines may evolve in the next few years, they will pave the road ahead for self-driving car legislation.
10. Car insurance premiums increased an average of 6%.
In 2016, auto insurance premiums increased at the fastest rate in nearly 13 years. A big rate hike occurred in April as claims rose 6%, though some states like Florida and California saw an even larger hike in rates, with some premiums increasing by as much as 10%.
There were more claims filed and the size of those claims increased as well, causing insurers to raise rates to balance out payouts. The increase in claims is, in part, due to the country’s improved economy. More Americans are driving, thanks to the rising employment rate and cheaper gasoline. However, people are also driving distracted and that is not helping to decrease the number of accidents on the roads. With the largest increase in traffic deaths since 2016, the car insurance premium rates will likely rise up again in 2017 to offset this year’s accident claims.