Direct Line CEO Sees a Driverless Future

Driverless car technology is rapidly advancing. The UK government has committed around £51 million in research funds and in the USA, companies like Google and Apple are well along the road in terms of testing prototypes. But what about the insurance issues?

A Select Committee already looked at the tricky issue of liability in an accident, with MPs hearing that drivers of autonomous vehicles tended to respond slower, believing that the car should have detected a hazard. See evidence to Parliament here.

In a keynote speech to the Innovate Finance Conference in London today, Direct Line Group’s CEO Paul Geddes told the audience of leading FinTech stakeholders that companies need to educate people about the benefits of technology on the roads as Direct Line Group’s research shows how out of sync people’s attitudes are with the driverless future.

In his speech Paul set out the three significant attitudinal barriers to a driverless future which the research highlighted:

1. People like to be in control – It is culturally uncomfortable for people to place their trust in car tech

  • 67 per cent of people would prefer to be in full control of their vehicle most of the time

Paul Geddes comments: “As a CEO, my philosophy is to run towards and embrace technology but this research provides a timely reminder that for many people, it goes against their natural instincts to relinquish control to a machine – especially when the consequences of a car accident can be devastating. If there is even a miniscule chance the technology could get it wrong, it seems that people are disinclined to trust it – even if, in reality, human error poses a greater risk. It is important that as we develop the technology we also make sure people fully understand how it works to build consumer trust.”

2. People think they are good drivers which renders safety a secondary issue and not the key issue of importance you would expect

  • Only 13 per cent of people think they are a driver with room for improvement and just 17 per cent think driverless cars would be safer
  • Only 18 per cent of the population think computers make better decisions than humans

Paul Geddes: “Driverless technology has the potential to transform the way we live, but the research finds most people need to be convinced of the benefits. How will it make road use better? Will it be safer, less congested, more economical, better for the environment? If more than 85 per cent of drivers think there is no room for improvement in their driving, then we need to explain what driverless technology could actually offer them.”

3.  The majority of people enjoy driving – only one in four find it a chore. Many people view motoring as a fun pastime and there are no signs that they are willing to hand this pleasure over to the car. Our research showed that many of the biggest sceptics on driverless cars are those who enjoy driving most – the old school “petrol heads”

  • 53 per cent of people think driving is an enjoyable experience
  • 23 per cent think of driving as dull means to an end

Paul Geddes: “Let’s not forget, driving is a pleasurable pastime for many people. These people might jump in a driverless taxi to make a meeting at the other side of town, but they don’t want to give up their weekend drives in the countryside. I’d expect to see a split between ‘functional’ and ‘fun’ vehicles, and they’ll need to exist on the road together.”

4. Attitudes are slow to change but people already have very strong views about who should be held responsible if things go wrong and it’s not them

  • 45 per cent think the manufacturer of the technology inside the car should be held responsible
  • 34 per cent think the car’s manufacturer should be liable

Geddes concludes: “Driverless technology radically alters the status quo for how we calculate risk and liability and who bears it. Its complex and one of the biggest challenges this industry has ever faced. At Direct Line Group we are working hard to understand the tech so that we can figure out what the next century of road use and insurance will look like.”

Insurance Edge Comment;

The news today that Uber has suspended its trials of driverless cars, following the death of a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. No details surrounding the exact causes of the crash have been released yet, including whether the car was in full autonomous mode. A driver/operator was inside the car, according to local news sources.

The incident is a tragic one and highlights the imperfections of the tech, despite tens of thousands of successful driverless trials by Uber – and others – in the USA. For insurers, and UK law firms, the question of control at the exact moment of the incident, will be at the crux of any legal argument over liability. And that in turn has huge implications for claims payments.

Many in the insurance industry are nervous about the driverless future envisioned by large companies and many governments, who all see this is a step towards greater road safety. Trials must be incredibly thorough and the science – and stats – released to the public domain must reassure drivers that the new generation of autonomous vehicles are genuinely trustworthy.

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