Driverless cars to hit UK roads within six months – what will this mean for car insurance in the future?

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driverless car BobToday the government unveiled plans to actively encourage the development of driverless cars on UK roads by announcing a multi-million pound research fund as well as a review of current road safety laws.

The news was announced by the Business Secretary Vince Cable, who said £10 million is to be made available to researchers of driverless cars in the UK – which will be joint-funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis).

Vince Cable said:

“Today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than six months, putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society.”

As well as encouraging researchers, the government have also began to ‘clear the road’ for driverless cars by commissioning a review of the current laws governing UK roads – including the Road Safety Act and the Highway Code – to enable testing of driverless cars.

The review of the laws is aimed at enabling testing of two different types of driverless cars on public roads – fully autonomous cars with no driver, and autonomous cars with a qualified driver inside who can take over controls. The review is expected to be finished by the end of 2014, which will enable testing to begin on UK roads as early as January 2015.

The move comes following successful trials in the US led by Google, who have been working on driverless cars for the past few years:

Driverless Car - Google

Credit: Google

In contrast to the government’s apparent eagerness to lead the way in driverless cars, both the AA and RAC have recently suggested the UK public are not too keen on the idea. A poll by the AA/Populus found that 43% of AA members didn’t think that UK legislation should be changed to even allow for the testing of driverless cars, while RAC technical director David Bizley said:

“Many vehicles already have features such as automatic braking and it is claimed that driverless technology is able to identify hazards more effectively than a person can.

But many motorists will be concerned about not being able to control the speed of their vehicle for the conditions or layout of the road in front of them.

There is also the question of whether a human would still have to be present or not to take control in the event of a computer or system failure, or will we really have driverless vehicles on our roads?

This is no doubt something that will involve new legislation before we actually get to see driverless vehicles taking to our roads.”

How will driverless cars affect car insurance in the UK?

While it’s too early to say for sure what the affects of driverless cars will have on car insurance in the UK, there are lots of questions that will need to be answered. For instance:

Who will be liable for a crash caused by a driverless car? Will it be the passenger? The car owner? The manufacturer / software provider?

It is likely that all driverless cars will come with internal and external cameras as well as black box (telematics) systems as standard, to avoid any potential disputes regarding liability.

In theory, car insurance premiums could potentially be lower for driverless cars as they will come with built-in safeguards like auto-braking and speed restrictions. The real concern will be whether there is a major malfunction which could put passengers as well as the public in considerable danger – something that is likely to result in increased public liability insurance for the manufacturers.