Driverless Cars—Google Jumps Ahead

Posted June 5th, 2015 by Ashley Kane

We’ve been dreaming about the future of cars for quite some time. We can’t help but consider the possibilities of what may be to come—new technology is exciting! While flying cars might still be left to our imagination, self-driving cars might soon appear in our driveways and on our streets. Many industry experts expect this to happen within the next 5 years, by 2020.

Google is planning to have its first public road tests of driverless cars this summer after creating many prototypes over the years. As posted on the official Google blog, they just announced that their pod-like, bubble shaped car, and prototypes like it, will take a spin on public roads this summer in Mountain View, California. Capped at the easygoing speed of 25mph, and equipped with a removable steering wheel, brake, and accelerator, the aboard Safety Drivers will be able to take over when necessary.

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This is a big step ahead for many reasons. Self-driving cars have reached a breakthrough point in development and now even auto insurance companies are recognizing their advancement and potentiality in changing the way they conduct business.

Several major insurance companies noted driverless car technology in the risk section of their most recent annual reports, including Cincinnati Financial Corp and Travelers Cos.

NHTSA logo national highway traffic safety administrationThe current general consensus is that insurance rates will be cut dramatically once driverless cars are on the market. After all, according to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), 94% of accidents are caused by human error, rather than by vehicle or environment. That’s a significant number and if the human error component can be taken out of the equation, then auto insurance premiums should drop quite significantly.

Potential Scenarios:

  • Split auto insurance costs are a consideration, in which the car owner would pay for insurance only when they are driving. When the vehicle is in self-drive mode, the responsibility would shift to the manufacturer.

    This could be the perfect transition to driverless cars. As prototypes continue to be developed, more and more self-driving features may be implemented into current cars. As a result, the car owner would be liable only when operating the vehicle, while the manufacturer would be liable when the new features are in use.

  • Car insurance rates drop significantly due to fewer accidents. However, replacement or mechanical costs may increase as these technologically advanced vehicles may have more expensive parts to repair.

    If there are fewer accidents occurring, but more costly repairs, then perhaps insurance rates will simply shift from insurance company to repair company. This could certainly change the way insurance companies do business, but perhaps, the cost difference would not be as significant on the consumer’s end.

The future of self-driving cars is still very much unknown. That said, progress is advancing and much has happened in the last couple of months. As long as the main focus continues to be on safety, then the future looks bright.

Tesla, Lexus, and General Motors all have upcoming prototypes set to soon ride on highways. While the automated cars still have a ways to go, such as learning the driving culture of different U.S. cities, Google says they already have a great deal of driving experience. These smart cars have driven an average of 10,000 miles a week, and as Google states, “in fact, it’s the equivalent of about 75 years of typical American adult driving experience.” If that’s any indicator, these cars of the future are well on their way to resolving the human error in accidents today.

Photo credits (top image): Google (2)