I’ve written extensively about self-driving car technology and its possible impact on the insurance industry in the past year. Here’s a recap of the highlights from 2017:
1. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) designated 10 new locations for testing of self-driving technology by academic institutions, state departments of transportation, cities, private entities and partnerships. DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement: “This group will openly share best practices for the safe conduct of testing and operations as they are developed, enabling the participants and the general public to learn at a faster rate and accelerating the pace of safe deployment.”
2. In January, experts gathered at the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association’s research center to discuss how developments in mapping and location technology will enhance safety and can enable driverless cars to be truly autonomous. “Autonomous cars are coming. But if they’re going to be truly safe, the computers inside the car need to know exactly where they are–to the centimeter and to the nanosecond,” said Rob Hranac of Swift Navigation.
3. A report, based on a survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group and released by Morgan Stanley, predicted “disruptors could grab 20 percent of the auto insurance market.” More than 26 percent of the respondents said they would purchase auto insurance from Apple, Google, AT&T and Verizon. “We think it is possible to envisage a credible entry strategy for tech giants that leverages driver data collected by navigation apps such as Google Maps, Waze or Apple Maps services. This would allow a tech giant to push competitive, tailored insurance offers to its customers,” the report said.
4. Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet gave his bleak take on the ramifications of driverless cars on the insurance industry during an interview with CNBC. Buffet said he sees the self-driving car business as a “major threat” to insurance companies. However, he added that disrupting an entire industry takes time, and the market will embrace self-driving cars slowly. “If I had to take the over and under bet 10 years from now on whether 10 percent of the cars on the road would be self-driving, I would take the under, but I could very easily be wrong,” Buffet said.
5. At the end March, IBM announced that its scientists have been granted a patent around a machine-learning system that can shift control of an autonomous vehicle between a human driver and a vehicle control processor in the event of a potential emergency, providing a safety measure that can contribute to accident prevention. “Self-driving vehicles hold great promise and potential, but protecting the safety of passengers and other drivers remains a top priority for vehicle developers and manufacturers,” said James Kozloski, IBM’s research manager for the project.
6. In June the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee started holding hearings on no fewer than 14 pieces of new legislation addressing self-driving vehicles. While there are no existing federal regulations on self-driving cars, auto manufacturers have been urging Washington to ease some of the current industry safety standards that are in place for traditional vehicles. Both sides of the Capitol also aim to bring clarity and consistency to the hodgepodge of state laws. According to USA Today, “more than 50 bills have been introduced in 20 states over the last several months providing some degree of regulation on self-driving cars.”
7. In late July, the first major U.S. bill on self-driving cars, named the ‘‘Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act’’ (the “SELF DRIVE Act,” for short), got approval from the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House. According to an article in Futurism, the bipartisan bill “would allow car manufacturers to put up to 25,000 autonomous vehicles on the roads in the first year of deployment. Over three years, that number would increase to a 100,000 annual cap. These vehicles would not be required to meet existing car safety standards.”
8. On the international front, India’s Transportation Minister Nitin Gadkari told reporters in July: “We will not allow driverless cars in India. We don’t need it. Each car gives a job to a driver. Driverless cars will take away those jobs.” While in China, Baidu, the country’s Google, had announced earlier in the spring that it would open source its software on driverless cars.
9. In September, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao revealed new voluntary guidelines for testing and developing self-driving cars. According to Tech Crunch, the guidelines, called “A Vision for Safety 2.0,” are designed to unify development of automation features, including full autonomy and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), and to help unify industry, local, state and federal government efforts to that end.
10. A U.S. Senate panel gave the green light to the first significant federal legislation on self-driving cars in October, barring states from imposing regulatory roadblocks and clearing the path for the use of autonomous vehicles. The Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee unanimously approved the measure, which would allow automakers to win exemptions for self-driving vehicles from safety rules that require cars to have human controls. States could set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections, but not performance standards. A similar bill also got approval from the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House.
Looking ahead to 2018, the Brookings Institution published a report revealing that total investments in driverless-car technology had topped a whopping $80 billion over the past three years, according to an article in The Hill. “The trend indicates that investment in 2018 should be substantially more than the $80 billion disclosed from 2014 to 2017 and continue upward for some period of time as the race to deploy self-driving moves on,” the report said.