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With Self-Driving Cars, Innovation Is Outpacing Insurance

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched a preliminary investigation into what is believed to be the first fatal crash involving a self-driving car. Joshua Brown, 40, of Ohio, was riding in a Tesla Motors Inc. electric car that was driving itself...
July 6, 2016

 

Self-Driving Car

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched a preliminary investigation into what is believed to be the first fatal crash involving a self-driving car. Joshua Brown, 40, of Ohio, was riding in a Tesla Motors Inc. electric car that was driving itself.

According to regulators and a Florida Highway Patrol report, Brown, the putative driver of the Tesla Model S, was killed when his car drove under a tractor trailer on a Florida highway. Tesla said the vehicle’s Autopilot system did not automatically brake because it did not detect the white side of the tractor trailer against the brightly lit sky. Although the car included a means by which the rider could retake control of the vehicle, Brown was unable to respond to the tractor trailer in time to do so.

Autonomous vehicles are being promoted as leading to safer roads and fewer accidents, but they raise questions for insurers about liability in the event of a crash. The incident also highlights new safety concerns as Tesla, General Motors Co., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and other companies race to get self-driving vehicles on roads by around 2020.

Currently, the insurance claims process for cars using the systems generally works the same way as for cars without them, said Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). In a report last year on self-driving cars, the I.I.I. said the industry must study whether accidents with autonomous cars lead to more product liability claims, in which drivers blame carmakers or suppliers for accidents, rather than their own driving behavior. Liability laws might evolve, the institute noted, to ensure autonomous vehicle technology advances are not brought to a halt. Regulators are expected to issue driverless-car guidelines later this summer.

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