A couple weeks ago, CNBC published a thought-provoking commentary by Vasant Dhar on autonomous vehicles (AVs). Much of the hype surrounding AVs has focused on their ability to prevent accidents. This makes sense given that, as Dhar notes, “more than 90 percent of accidents result from human impairment, such as drunk driving or road rage, errant pedestrians, or just plain bad driving.”
But Dhar also points out a somewhat less obvious but equally probable consequence of the rise of AVs: Because the sensors and onboard systems in AVs will collect and record massive amounts of data, AVs will greatly simplify the assignment of liability when accidents occur. This could eliminate the raison d’etre for no-fault insurance and liability, which continues to be the rule in many states and provinces in the U.S. and Canada. It would also reduce the uncertainty that leads to costly litigation in jurisdictions where the assignment of liability for a car accident depends on who is found to be at fault. As Dhar explains:
Big data from onboard systems changes everything because we now have the ability to know the physics associated with accidents . . . .
The ever-increasing numbers of sensors on roads and vehicles move us towards a world of complete information where causes of accidents will be determined more reliably and fault easier to establish. With the detail and transparency that big data provides, no fault accidents will not be an option.
This may strike panic in the hearts of personal injury attorneys, but it would be good news for pretty much everyone else.
In the long-run, increasing automation and the introduction of more sophisticated vehicle sensor systems will also have positive downstream effects. As Dhar notes, “the massive increase in data collection from vehicles . . . will happen irrespective of whether vehicles are ever fully autonomous” as manufacturers continue to load more sophisticated sensors and systems on human-driven cars. This data “could be used to design incentives and reward desirable driving practices in the emerging hybrid world of human and driverless vehicles. In other words, better data could induce better driving practices and lead to safer transportation with significantly lower insurance and overall costs to society.”