Self driving cars put car insurance in the rearview

Ninety per cent of drivers would consider an autonomous car if it cut insurance rates, according to a recent US survey.

Australians love to drive, but with the cost of car ownership climbing each year to makes it one of the biggest costs of living after rent and food. According to a recent study, options to cut costs are highly appealing, even if it means giving up the wheel.

A recent study by the non-profit Eno Centre for Transportation found that because 90% of all driving accidents are caused by operator error, automating vehicles through on board computers would reduce injuries, deaths and related costs by significant amounts.

Alcohol, drugs, inexperience, speeding and dangerous conditions can all contribute to an accident but with computers at the helm, it would be possible to sense and anticipate road conditions and objects, helping avoid accidents. If 90 per cent of vehicles in the US were self driving as many as 4.2 million accidents would be avoided and 21,700 lives and $US450 billion in related costs, saved.

However, other research has shown people will require a lot of encouragement to give up the wheel. A survey conducted by US comparison site revealed that 90 per cent of customers would allow a computer to drive their car if doing so would cut their insurance rate by 80 per cent.

This result despite 75 per cent believing they could drive a car better than a computer.

In the world of self-driving cars, the question then becomes, who's responsible if something goes wrong. According to CarInsurance managing editor Des Toups at least "some of the liability of operating a car would be assumed by the manufacturer. But a lot of the decrease in insurance rates could come simply because there would be fewer accidents."

In the survey another 64 per cent of respondents said computers were not capable of the same quality of decision making as human drivers and 75 per cent said they wouldn't trust a driver-less car to take their children to school.

Despite these concerns, more than a third of those surveyed said an 80 per cent discount on car insurance would persuade them to buy and autonomous vehicle while 90 per cent said they would at least consider the idea.

Manufacturers and technology companies such as Google, have announced pans to launch self-driving vehicle lines by 2020. As of August, California and Nevada has enacted legislation to allow self-driving car licensing, with similar legislation pending across the USA.

Although Google has been the forerunner of the project, respondents also said they'd be more inclined to trust a car maker than a software maker to deliver an autonomous car with 54% favouring a traditional automaker such as Honda, Ford or Toyota and only 15% trusting Google to carry through the project.

It's uncertain how long the technology will take to hit Australian shores and how it would be received. Until then, the best way to cut car insurance down to size will still be to compare online with

Would you embrace a self-driving car if it were a viable option? What would you do with all that spare time in your commute? We'd love to hear from you.