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Man and lady in a car with arms up
on 31 Aug 2016 2:51 PM

As we enter the last weeks of the UK government's consultation on automated vehicles, it becomes ever more apparent that UK roads about to see a dramatic change. Driverless cars, once the stuff of sci-fi movies, are set to become a reality on our highway and byways from next year.

Although some people will still want to 'drive' their car, in the traditional sense, the benefits of driverless vehicles are evident. We can expect fewer traffic fatalities (90% of which are caused by human error), quicker journeys (as we are automatically rerouted via the quicker roads), finding a 'designated driver' for nights out should become a thing of the past, and insurance premiums should be slashed.

In fact, some question whether the rise of driverless cars will precipitate the demise of the motor insurance industry as we know it. How can a driver be at fault when they are not technically in charge of the vehicle? Assuming the car owner has ensured that their software is up-to-date, and the vehicle has been adequately maintained, is it not the car's autonomous system that is at fault? Will we, therefore, see the likes of Google, Apple, Tesla and the traditional motor manufacturers be the underwriters of the future? It's not hard to imagine some of these cash-rich businesses wanting to move down the value chain to start insuring their products, especially since improvements in their technology would then directly benefit them.

Of course, insuring a vehicle for its behaviour on the road is very different to insuring it against vandalism. So will our policies be split into their different constituent parts? Perhaps one policy for the driverless system and one for damage?

If that is the case and driverless cars prove to be far safer than their manual counterparts, it is very likely that the damage element of the cover is likely to be far higher than the on-road element (especially given the high cost of the vehicles). So, drivers are likely to be very keen that these machines are kept in the safest possible environment. Perhaps in gated communities and secure city spaces.

Equally, will these smart cars see an end to breakdown cover, as they drive themselves off to the mechanic, when they sense that there's a fault? And, will taxi drivers be a thing of the past?

Whatever happens, these driverless cars are likely to mean a reshaping of the country. Perhaps a massive opportunity for some business, perhaps the end of many others.