While the technology exists for cars to drive around on their own, self-driving cars are a long way from hitting the mainstream. However, some features from self-driving cars are available today in the form of driver assistance. Todayâ€™s cars can change lanes, avoid accidents, and stay in a lane without much input from the driver, but does a car that can drive on its own mean you donâ€™t need auto insurance? Letâ€™s take a look at the legality of self-driving and driver assisted cars as it pertains to car insurance.
Do Cars Really Drive on Their Own?
Recently in Texas, someone was driving along in his Tesla with driver assist features turned on. However, driver assist is not the same as a completely autonomous self-driving car. If you put too much trust in these features, you could end up just like the driver in Texas, with a busted Tesla.
This crash took place for several reasons. The biggest factor, however, is that the driver expected the car to drive on its own. Cars today, with a few exceptions, do not drive on their own. Commercially available cars from Tesla and other manufacturers that have lane change and accident avoidance are not meant to be used without a driver paying attention. This is what led to the above accident.
The driver in this accident walked away uninjured, so in a way, the car did exactly what it was designed to do. If you watch closely, you can see that the car is entering a construction zone with a car behind and a car just to the right. By hitting the concrete barrier, the car avoided a more serious accident with other cars. It did protect the driver and operated as intended.
So who was at fault? The driver blamed the car, but in a statement from Tesla, they explained that this was not the intended use of autopilot, not that it hasnâ€™t stopped people before.
The Governmentâ€™s Rules for Autonomous Vehicles
Tesla explained that its autopilot is improving, but requires the driver to be alert and pay attention at all times. That is similar to the governmentâ€™s treatment of autopilot and self-driving features available today. While rules vary from state to state, regular people cannot generally ride in self-driving cars with no driver paying attention.
This is a very important legal distinction for insurance and liability purposes. If the car were truly self-driving, an argument could be made that the owner is not liable for accidents. However, by requiring a driver to be alert and focus, the liability remains with the driver.
Either way, in all states but New Hampshire and Virginia, auto insurance is required to operate a motor vehicle. Regardless of whether a human or computer is behind the wheel, the owner is liable and required to have sufficient insurance in accordance with state law.
Exciting Times Ahead
Recently a self-driving semi-truck made a 120-mile beer run from Fort Collins to Pueblo, Colorado to drop off a delivery. Self-driving Ubers have been tested on real roads in Philadelphia and San Francisco. In Silicon Valley, a self-driving car took a blind man through the Taco Bell drive-thru.
While these seem like small developments, fully autonomous vehicles could change the world. Imagine an end to drunk driving. Picture a smooth rush hour with few traffic backups and delays. Envision a world where you could tell the car to drop off your kids at school, then come home to pick you up for work. This is the future weâ€™re headed to, and it is closer than most people realize.
But for now, even if you have a driver assisted car, pay attention to the wheel and keep your insurance card close by. It will be a while before that part of your daily drive goes away.