Are insurers ready for driver-free cars?

Many of us fondly recall the Jetsons cartoon from our childhoods. It was a show that still seems incredibly futuristic, and yet many of the inventions envisioned in the Jetsons aren’t yet a part of our reality. But one concept–driver-free cars–is already a possibility in 2012.

Search engine leader Google is currently testing driverless cars and Nevada has already passed regulations that pave the way for use of these car’s on Nevada roadways.

But, are they safe? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, many features of driverless cars make the roads safer, as reported in this Chicago-Tribune article:

One argument for driverless cars, is, ironically, an argument for safer roads. The reason the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has required that all new auto models include electronic stability control is that it makes vehicles safer. The agency predicts that once every vehicle on the road has the system, the feature will prevent up to 238,000 crashes and save up to 9,600 lives per year.

Windsor said electronic stability control, collision warning systems, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping systems are good for safety and can help drive down the cost of car insurance.

One would think that insurance companies would embrace these safer vehicles, but according to the Chicago-Tribune article, the exact opposite is true. It seems that insurers are instead turning a blind eye to the possibility that use of the cars by the public will likely soon be a reality–possibly within a matter of years.

So why aren’t insurers hard at work underwriting policies for these cars? According to the article, it’s because they’re just not ready to accept the idea that these cars will be ready for mass use in just a few years:

With companies working to develop completely autonomous vehicles — in which passengers can read, sleep or work on a computer while they travel to their destination — you’d think insurance companies are developing models to underwrite insurance policies on these types of vehicles.

Not really. Several companies haven’t looked into it at all, and the ones that have say it will be several years — perhaps decades — before automated vehicles are ready for the market.

The insurers may be right. Only time will tell. But knowing how innovative Google can be, it’s a big gamble to ignore the very real possibility that driverless cars may soon be on our roadways–making the roads safer for everyone and preventing car accidents.

For the sake of the large, traditional auto insurers, let’s hope they’re ready. Otherwise, an innovative startup might just take the business of insuring driverless cars right out from under them.

The Ankin Law ( handles workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. You can reach the firm by calling (312) 600-0000.