The car that drives itself crashes itself, and the business of insuring against this inevitability is on the cusp of a gradual but major shift. Auto insurance revolves around liability. When Google’s autonomous cars crashed in testing on public roads, it’s always been the other driver’s fault. People brake check and zip across three lanes of traffic to avoid missing an exit. Self-driving cars don’t. That upends the insurance game.
The U.S. government think tank RAND imagines that we’ll see a move from state-regulated insurance protecting drivers to federal law protecting automakers. It almost has to be. Manufacturers would be nuts to think the technology won’t go wrong at least a few times, and if they’re liable for every malfunction, they’re screwed. In RAND’s version of the future, there’s a federal no-fault law that absolves manufacturers of liability for crashes. As in current no-fault states, drivers would still purchase policies, and insurance would pay for its policyholder regardless of who’s at fault in a crash.