The Complex World of Autonomous Cars
Are Our Cars Really “Self-Driving?”
Typically, consumers buy new cars for their updated technology, improved fuel efficiency, and advanced safety features. However, the “self-driving” features many newer models possess may be doing more harm than good. According to the National Highway Transportation Administration, driver-assisted technology can be defined by six levels of autonomy:
- No automation
- Driver assistance
- Partial automation
- Conditional automation
- High automation
- Full automation
While Tesla describes their self-driving feature as a level two (partial automation), they call the feature “Full Self Driving.” This is the main problem with currently available “self-driving” cars; they imply complete autonomy yet still require full attention from the driver. And Tesla isn’t the only company that offers self-driving features: other top brands following the autonomous trend include the 2022 Mazda3, the 2021 Cadillac CT4, the 2021 BMW 740i, and even the 2022 Hyundai Sonata.
The concept of autonomous cars appears attractive; we generally perceive technology as a means for making our lives easier. Yet, according to Carsurance’s “24 Self-Driving Car Statistics & Facts,” self-driving cars have a higher crash rate (9.1/mil) than that of human-driven cars (4.1/mil). This means that you are less likely to get into an accident if you are in complete control of the automobile rather than utilizing an assisted driving feature.
If you get into an accident while using self-driving technology, who is at fault?
Short answer: the driver occupying the vehicle.
Vernon’s Texas Statutes and Codes Annotated (V.T.C.A) Transportation Code § 545.455 states that “in an event of an accident involving an automated motor vehicle, the automated motor vehicle or any human operator of the automated motor vehicle shall comply with Chapter 550.”
Chapter 550, in a nutshell, mirrors the same laws that human-operated vehicles must abide by. If in an accident, the driver must immediately stop the vehicle and remain at the scene until the operator fulfills the requirements of § 550.023. And of course, § 550.023 states that those involved in a car accident must provide their vehicle/insurance information and render aid, if necessary.
Despite advertised “full autonomy,” drivers must maintain complete attention to their surrounding environment while implementing self-driving features. This means that the driver must be able to assume full control of their vehicle at any time. The automated motor vehicle must also be in accordance with V.T.C.A., Transportation Code § 545.454 (b), stating that these autonomous vehicles are required to be:
- “Capable of operating in compliance with applicable traffic and motor vehicle laws of this state, subject to this subchapter;
- Equipped with a recording device, as defined by § 547.615 (a), installed by the manufacturer of the automated motor vehicle or automated driving system;
- Equipped with an automated driving system in compliance with applicable federal law and federal motor safety standards;
- Registered and titled in accordance with the laws of this state; and
- Covered by motor vehicle liability coverage of self-insurance in an amount equal to the amount of coverage that is required under the laws of this state.”
In Texas, we are a modified comparative negligence state – meaning you can sue for damages if you are partially at fault for an accident. However, if you are found more than 50% responsible for the accident, you cannot claim damages. If you were involved in a self-driving car accident, the same rules still apply. You would still need to prove less than 51% negligence to recover any damages, despite the autonomy of the vehicle.
How are insurance companies responding?
Theoretically, self-driving cars’ main function is to decrease the amount of human-error attributed accidents on the roads. Without human-error, vehicle insurance and cost of insurance will take a significant shift, making us ask, what does it look like to insure an autonomous vehicle?
According to Bankrate’s article, “Everything You Need to Know About Insuring an Electric Vehicle,” insurance premiums for electric cars are, on average, more expensive than their gas-powered counterparts. This is primarily due to the generally higher purchase and repair costs of these vehicles. However, you will end up saving about $14,480 on gas over the average 15-year expected life span of a car when choosing an EV.
In October of 2017, Tesla announced InsureMyTesla, a specific kind of car insurance designed exclusively for Tesla owners. InsureMyTesla covers accident loss and damage, wall connectors used for charging the vehicle, and lost or misplaced key fobs.
As self-driving vehicles continue to advance in technology and level of autonomy, we must keep in mind that these vehicles are still required to comply with the V.T.C.A. Transportation Codes, they are still insured the same way that human-driven cars are, and, as of now, still require complete awareness of your driving environment.
For more information about autonomous vehicles and the rules of the road, review our website or contact us here.