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Future of CTP insurance for driverless cars

CTP green slips have been in the news because of proposed reforms by the NSW government. But what will happen to the idea of CTP when cars can drive themselves? The current NSW CTP scheme is partially fault based. If there is no driver in an accident with a driverless car, whose fault will it be?

For you and me, driverless cars may be an exciting or daunting prospect. But the National Transport Commission (NTC) is currently considering the ripple effects of putting autonomous cars on the road.

The Commission suggests the law may need to temporarily protect self-driving car manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, Volvo or Google from liability, so they are not discouraged from fully developing the technology. (A similar kind of protection applies for manufacturers of vaccines.)

Who is responsible?

If an autonomous car is in an accident, who should be responsible? It could be the manufacturer of either the car or the technical systems, or it could be the network carrying GPS information.

Google and Volvo have already claimed they would accept full liability for systems failure but it will be interesting to see how this works in practice.

Volvo has urged the state government to conduct a self-driving car trial in Sydney before 2021 on major roads, such as the M1, M5 and M7. This trial would start off with straightforward sections, adding more complex roads as the technology evolves and eventually reducing traffic congestion. Volvo is already planning the first mass autonomous car trial in 2017 in its own town of Gothenberg, Sweden.

Chance of accidents

Actuaries predict the likelihood of injury from accidents in driverless cars will drop considerably:

  • 80% for drivers and passengers
  • 70% for cyclists
  • 40% for motorcyclists
  • 45% for pedestrians.

The lower figure for pedestrians is because they would take a while to get used to cars driving themselves and would be unable to use hand signals or make eye contact with the driver in the way they do now.

The NTC predicts the introduction of driverless vehicles on to Australian roads will make green slips much cheaper.

New laws needed

Ultimately, experts predict there will be no fatalities at all in driverless cars because they remove the possibility of human error. Until then, it will be a laborious and painstaking process to create new laws to deal with the uncertainties and novelties of this technology.

For example, many laws currently put obligations squarely on a human driver:

  • Giving assistance after a crash
  • Complying with directions from police
  • Paying any tolls or fines.

According to Paul Retter, CEO of the NTC: “Australia’s laws need to be ready for the biggest change to our transport system since cars replaced horses”.

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