ABN AMRO’s private bank MeesPierson believes that traffic laws and car insurance conditions should be modified before self-driving cars are actually allowed to drive on public roads. MeesPierson’s knowledge centre says that current liability laws would lead to undesirable situations and that insuring self-driving cars would be virtually impossible.
The first fatality with a semi-self-driving car recently occurred in the United States. ABN AMRO MeesPierson says the software used in self-driving cars is still in its infancy. ‘The operating system needs to be developed much further,’ claims Geert Offergelt, head of Private Insurance at the bank. ‘The question is, how do self-driving cars respond to moral dilemmas? What if the car suddenly has to swerve to avoid hitting an object, but in doing so automatically hits another car? The next question is, who would then be liable? The driver – who doesn’t actually exist – or the car manufacturer, or the software producer?’
Accident and damage liability presents a tricky dilemma, according to ABN AMRO MeesPierson. The Dutch Civil Code and Road Traffic Act assume that a person is driving the vehicle. MeesPierson states that in the future car manufacturers or software producers, owners of self-driving cars or even connectivity software providers could be held liable for accidents. ‘The introduction of self-driving cars means liability laws need to be reformed,’ says Mr Offergelt. ‘We could offer car owners the option of only covering damage to their own car in the event of an accident, and not the other party’s car. But the insurance policy must cover damage to an object (like a lamppost) or injuries (if a person has been hit). Under current law, the driver can claim force majeur, for instance due to malfunctioning of the operating system. But this could lead to undesirable situations if a person is injured, in which case the victim could get the short end of the stick.’
Insurance premium hard to estimate
It is almost impossible to estimate how much an insurance policy for self-driving cars should cost. Geert Offergelt: ‘The technology used in a self-driving car makes it more expensive to repair. Car insurance should consequently be very expensive. On the other hand, self-driving cars supposedly cause less damage, which should lower the insurance premium. Plus ‘regular’ cars will continue to be produced. Car insurance for these vehicles could become much more expensive.’
Car insurance to change
ABN AMRO MeesPierson says that it is impossible to insure self-driving cars under the current conditions and laws. European traffic ministers want to make it possible to test these kinds of vehicles on public roads starting in 2019. ‘Ultimately, the insurance issue will be resolved, but at this point it’s still a problem,’ says Mr Offergelt. ‘2019 will be here faster than you think, so there’s some degree of urgency here. At any rate, car insurance as it now exists will definitely change.’