Magazine article Risk Management

Driverless Cars: A Risky Opportunity?

Magazine article Risk Management

Driverless Cars: A Risky Opportunity?

Article excerpt

Once a sci-fi fantasy, driverless cars are quickly becoming a reality. "Autonomous" automobile test models have been on the road since 2009, so far driving hundreds of thousands of miles without an accident.

"No matter how you feel about this topic, the question is, what are you doing to prepare for this possibility?" said Laura J. Hay, national insurance practice leader with KPMG. Speaking at the KPMG Insurance Industry Conference in New York, she focused on the opportunities possible with driverless cars, and referred to a popular

YouTube video of a visually-impaired man who was able to get into a driverless car, travel to a dry cleaner, pick up his laundry and return home safely.

In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 34,080 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2012--up 5.3% from 2011 and the first year-to-year increase since 2005. Some 3,331 people were killed in accidents specifically involving distracted drivers in 2011 and 387,000 more were injured.

Many experts believe these numbers could be significantly reduced with driverless cars. "Google says that driverless cars will dominate the roadways in the near future and that 90% of the 1.2 million global fatalities due to auto accidents could be avoided with driverless cars," Hay said.

New York is wasting no time in its preparations for a driverless future. State Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson) introduced a bill that would authorize operation of "autonomous" cars on New York roads. The legislation will allow Toyota, in partnership with Google, to test these vehicles.

"Vehicle accidents, year after year, always rank in the leading causes of death in New York state and across the United States," Sen. Ball said in a June press release. "In the early testing stages, this futurist technology has proven to be safer and more reliable than human-operated vehicles. I believe that New York state should welcome this technology with open arms."

The test vehicles are equipped with Google technology, which relies on a system of lasers and GPS to maneuver the cars. According to the release, California, Florida and Nevada have also introduced legislation to allow the testing of autonomous vehicles.

Manufacturers are starting to recognize the marketing opportunities as well. Nissan announced in late August that it will come out with "revolutionary, commercially-viable autonomous drive in multiple vehicles by the year 2020." Its engineers have been doing extensive research on the technology for years, "alongside teams from the world's top universities, including MIT, Stanford, Oxford, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Tokyo." Nissan said its autonomous driving cars will also have "realistic prices" for consumers.

Not to be left out, in January, Toyota also announced an autonomous car, the Advanced Safety Research Vehicle. The car is equipped with sensors and automated control systems that the company said can observe, process and respond to the vehicle's surroundings.

The vehicle is based on a Lexus LS and has systems capable of scanning object movement, distinguishing a green light from a red light, and measuring vehicle trajectory on the road.

The car also includes GPS, stereo cameras, radar and light detection and ranging laser tracking. Toyota hopes its technologies will one day lead to a fully autonomous car and that its developments will enhance the skills of the driver, believing a more skillful driver is a safer driver. …

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