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Consequences of Transportation Technology

self-drive-carThere have been some amazing advances in the way of transportation and navigation technology in recent years. Two self-driving cars avoided a collision (one car belonging to Google and the other to Delphi Automotive). Bravo to that. In addition, Google is now offering railroad crossing alerts for drivers using their navigation application (Google Maps) to help mitigate the number of accidents that occur at railroad crossings. Kudos to that as well. The dialogue we would like to open up, however, relates to the consequences of these advances in the context of insurance.

Particularly for companies that deal with some form of transportation (and own a fleet of company-owned cars), these technological tools will affect how both risk and liability are assessed.

When the Technology Works

There are given environmental risks relating to automotive transport, new tech or no new tech. These risks are generally consistent regardless of whether or not the technology is functioning the way it’s supposed to. For example, neither the self-driving car nor the railroad alert will affect the risk of a tree branch falling on top of the vehicle, grand theft auto, or even a hit and run to a certain extent.

What about user error? If the technology works, but the person in the vehicle does not apply the information appropriately, with whom will the liability lie? Does the new technology increase the risk of accidents simply due to being an added variable? These added variables must be taken into account for any form of risk assessment and will affect the ability of a business to find an appropriate insurance carrier.

When the Technology Doesn’t Work

“We believe that when you create a machine to do the work of a man, you take something away from the man.”

Granted, this quote from Star Trek: Insurrection is not necessarily the “Aha!” moment we might like it to be, but it points to an even larger issue. If an accident occurs while the technology is NOT working (either the self-driving car or navigation app), who is liable? The company producing the technology would be easy to point the finger at, but it is never so simple. Unless the expectation (in the legal sense) is for the technology to replace the driver, liability will still lie with the operator of the vehicle and potentially the company he or she is employed by. If technology is a tool, we are the ones responsible for its upkeep and proper usage.

As newer technology brings up more questions, hopefully we can come up with some reasonable answers…or at the very least, more questions.