The Economic and Legal Impact of Robot Cars: Insurance, Liability, and Damages
The widespread adoption of robot cars could have a revolutionary impact, reducing injuries and fatalities and transforming the industry from car ownership to ride-share services. The auto insurance industry may wither, as the idea of personal car ownership slowly disappears. And without human drivers, or insurance policies to match, traditional approaches to liability may have to evolve. Already, with a rapidly growing list of computerized functions such as antilock braking, electronic stabilizing, traction controlling, tire pressure monitoring, adaptive cruise controlling, blind-spot detecting, collision warning, lane-departure warning, and emergency brake assisting, one begins to wonder, who's really driving.
The courts have faced disruptive technologies before.
In 1916, the New York Times declared that autopilot systems / aeroplane stabilizers would “make the heavier-than-air machines practically foolproof." Like autonomous vehicles, these aviation advancements were lauded as great safety improvements, and were expected to have a significant impact on liability, making it more likely that autopilot manufacturers would be held to account when planes did crash.
Also in the early 1900s, automatic elevators began to replace manual elevators, and when the initial technology proved dangerous, states began enacting specific safety requirements for elevators. The insurance industry developed a special “elevator liability” insurance, and courts deemed elevators “common carriers” which held operators and manufacturers to the highest duty of care under the law.
In a robot car future, will liability shift from man to machine? Who will carry what type of insurance? And how will litigation change, and what will damages look like?