The Shape of Future Insurance: An Updated View on Autonomous Technologies

Sam Chapman - December 16th, 2020

cars driving down a road towards a camera

Autonomous vehicles (AV) and technologies are regularly cited as a turning point in mobility which, when fully introduced, will change the way we move around cities forever. However, the introduction of autonomous technologies brings with it a set of challenges including how sectors, such as infrastructure and insurance, deal with these new technologies.

The latest Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index (AVRI) details the readiness of autonomous technologies by country, ranking them according to who has made the most progress towards full autonomy.

Despite the clear advancements being made, the debate remains around the best way to effectively judge progress in the sector. Many experts believe that there should be a greater focus on the impacts which this technology will have on risk and wider society, as well as when these impacts could start to be felt, as this will help connected sectors, including insurance, to effectively plan for the future of vehicles.

AV deployment and moving timelines

‘Coming soon’ is the hopeful phrase regularly associated with autonomous technologies, and AV’s in particular. Back in 2017, the then UK Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, even stated that he expected AV’s to be on the UK’s roads as early as 2021. However, despite many successful trails, the roadmap has altered from the optimistic early reporting, with the AV industry now working to reset expectations regarding the mass availability of this technology.

Over the years, the path to widespread adoption has become much longer than previously thought as the reality of technology deployment, consumer acceptance and regulation of these technologies, has become apparent. It is now sensible to assume that widespread availability will not be achieved for another 15-20 years and even then, these technologies are not likely to be available everywhere.

Effectively measuring progress in autonomy

The continual focus on the race to full autonomy stems from the early standardisation of the degrees of automation: JAE SAE Level 1 to Level 5. These levels classify the degrees of vehicle automation very well, but they are a particularly poor measure of the progress being made.

This is especially true when considering level 5 – ‘full automation’ – as it will not be possible to achieve full automation everywhere. The ‘everything everywhere’ (full automation in every scenario) approach is flawed when we consider scenarios such as driving in sandstorms or arctic conditions, where sand or snow cover roads and signs resulting in poor visibility and making it extremely difficult for the car’s cameras and sensors to know what to do e.g. when to brake, turn corners etc.

Instead of focusing on the JAE SAE levels, we should focus on live trials, where the driving experience and operating environment are examined in detail, which can lead to evolutionary developments in autonomy.

Approaches for introducing autonomy

With the ‘everything everywhere’ approach extremely difficult to achieve, it is vital to explore other approaches to help get AV’s onto our roads.

1) The “something everywhere” approach
This relates to degrees of partial automation being embedded into more vehicles than it currently is, and potentially mandating this within vehicle regulation. However, introducing further aspects of autonomous capability into vehicles can affect the way a driver acts behind the wheel, and it can create many issues surrounding risk and who is at fault should an accident occur.

Automated safety systems, such as advanced cruise control and automated parking, are a great example of this as they can take over from drivers in extremely rare events, or when drivers elect to give control to the vehicle. Also, these sophisticated technologies can have a negative impact on driver behaviour, with drivers becoming more reliant on the vehicle to correct mistakes rather than actively trying to avoid making them in the first place e.g. straying lanes on the motorway.

However, this doesn’t mean that this technology is a bad thing as it is being used to make vehicles, and mobility, safer. Following an agreement in the European Parliament in March 2019, all new cars in the EU will have to be equipped with advanced safety systems from 2022. These systems include intelligent speed assistance, alcohol interlock installation facilitation, advanced driver distraction warning systems and event data recorders, which are all designed to make driving, and our roads, safer by utilising autonomous technologies.

2) The “everything somewhere” approach
Like many of the live trials currently underway, this approach focuses on a vehicle containing all of the required equipment and strong automation, but the vehicle will be limited to a small portion of the road network where it can only operate within fixed conditions e.g. set routes, road types and environmental conditions (known as a vehicle’s operational design domain). The highly restricted conditions of these trials mean that longer term, or large geographic, deployments of full autonomy are still a long way off.

The impact on insurers

Regardless of the approach taken, change is coming but it is vital that AV’s and autonomous technologies are introduced steadily through controlled introductions of these capabilities, with all changes regulated to maintain public safety.

Like many ADAS functions, which have been embraced to provide an understanding of a vehicle’s potential risk, it is important for insurance companies to plan for the introduction of AV technology so it becomes part of their business, and aligned to their needs.

By utilising telematics, insurers can gain a clearer understanding of the risks of these particular technologies and insights into how they affect driver behaviour. As a result of the work we have done on leading research projects in this area, we see that there is a real need for insurers to focus on the changing environment by rethinking insurance policies to take into account autonomy within a vehicle.

Our insights put us in a good place to help insurers appropriately plan for the future of mobility, and inform regulation in the industry. It’s clear that our telematics solutions will become ever more important as they provide insurers with the opportunity to effectively understand and price risk in an autonomous world, and to ensure that they remain competitive and offer the capabilities required by policyholders in the new era of mobility.

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