Fender benders follow a pretty typical escalation toward resolution. You get out of a vehicle, assess damage, exchange insurance information with the other party, and drive away. Aside from being witnesses, passengers typically aren’t introduced in matters of liability.
But in the case of a self-driving car, everyone inside is a passenger (assuming there’s anyone in there at all). What’s an insurance claim going to look like? Why didn’t Isaac Asimov cover this?
According to a Vocativ interview with Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina, self-driving vehicles will carry much of the same burdens as those currently on the road. If an accident is caused due to a mechanical malfunction, then the manufacturer can be held responsible. In the case of autonomous cars, a navigation system failing to avoid a collision would be considered vehicle, and not owner, error.
That should result in cheaper premiums, right? Maybe, but you might wind up paying regardless. The expense of liability insurance that's removed from private policies and dumped into the auto industry's lap will probably get passed right back to the consumer: It’s been speculated that automakers, faced with the potential for carrying the blame in accidents, will factor in those costs when pricing models. Private insurance would then become more about physical damage or theft. (And should be cheaper regardless, since more smart cars should mean fewer accidents.)
The blame game will have to be hashed out before too long: More than 10 million self-driving cars are expected to be on the road by 2020.