This month in Arizona, a self-driving Uber car killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who was walking her bike across an empty street late in the evening. It was the first pedestrian fatality to be caused by an autonomous vehicle.
What went wrong? While there was an operator behind the wheel, the SUV was in "autonomous mode" during the crash. However, the collision happened so fast ("she came from the shadows right into the roadway") that it's unlikely the human driver would have been able to avoid it.
No matter. The tragedy raises questions – and so it should.
Autonomous crashes make headlines
Self-driving cars are relatively new, and they’re relatively few compared to conventional vehicles. For both reasons, autonomous collisions – though rare – are more likely to make headlines than the collision of a conventional car.
The year before last saw several famous examples. In February of 2016, a Google crash made the news. The same June, an autonomous Tesla collided with an 18-wheeler, killing its occupant. That December, a driverless Uber was ticketed for running a red light.
Some of these incidents were the fault of the car; others were due to human error. In the case of Elaine Herzberg, as mentioned, the crash may not have been avoidable. Still, the technology used by the car that killed her is not above reproach.
“LiDAR is remarkably adept at tracking road signs, vehicles, and pedestrians in most conditions, but struggles with sudden transitions from light to dark — such as moving from a tunnel back onto a well-lit road or, in this case, moving from shadows to the bright light of a car’s front headlights,” said Bryan Clark at TNW.
Developments to follow the Uber fatality
Following Herzman’s death, Congress may move more slowly to pass "sweeping legislation to speed the introduction of self-driving cars into the United States," said Alexandria Sage at Carrier Management.
Meanwhile, Herzman's daughter is retaining a personal injury lawyer whose firm made a statement that "the incident sparked a national debate about the safety of self-driving cars, exposing the technology's blind spots and raising questions of liability."
Liability is indeed the question. Who's to blame – the sensor-maker? Other tech-makers, those responsible for developing systems to interpret and act on LiDAR data? The human operator?
“One of the points we have consistently made is that ... insurers will need to ... adapt to this changing nature of driving risk, as it becomes more and more about systems taking a bigger and bigger role in driving vehicles,” said Bob Passmore of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
According to risk management executive Andrew Millinship, “Insurers are preparing very well for the introduction of autonomous vehicles and have been doing so for several years.”
We have reason to believe that driverless cars will ultimately cause fewer fatalities than human error. We know, too, that human error causes fatalities all the time.
“We always knew there would be some accidents with these kinds of vehicles as they got more and more into use,” Passmore said. “Most people believe that they will go a long way toward reducing the number of crashes, but as long as they share the road with other users [vehicles with drivers or people walking], there is always the possibility that there could be an accident.”
Still, when vehicle error causes a fatality, statistical projections seem weak indeed. New technology must survive a trial period of public opinion before the shape of its future may grow clear.
While the legalities of self-driving cars evolve, one thing is for certain. Insurers and MGAs need a nimble policy administration system to connect them to the future. Silvervine can help. Download our overview brochure to learn more.
The FedNat Insured Web is a great tool for our insureds!
They like having a centralized location to view policy info, make payments, upload policy documents, and elect to become paperless to receive a discount.
The insureds also can file a First Notice of Loss for a claim and access exiting claim info. Silvervine recently enhanced the site which allows insureds to upload policy documents directly to their policy. The uploaded docs go directly into our workflows and save a lot of manual effort on our part.
From my visits with agents, the agents appreciate the app for the amount of time saved on having to download and attach photos directly to the policy.
The app can also reduce the amount of staff required for a busy office to fulfill underwriting requests for photos.
When training agents they are amazed at how quickly the photos attach directly to the policy. After taking photos using the app and before they make it back to their desk, the photo is already attached to the policy. They also like the ability to attach additional photos for pre-existing damage.
Customer Service is seeing an improvement with retention as the text message definitely triggers phone calls from insureds to make payments.
The insureds love the fact that we notify them on their phones because they state that sometimes they don’t receive their mail for various reasons.
The insureds are paying more attention to the texts then to their actual mail. We try to set all of our customers up on that option if we notice that they are not currently enrolled, as it builds great customer relations as well as retention.
As a company we have adopted the use of Policy Scan for all our policies, and our agents have adopted the use of the app as well.
Not only is it easy to use, there is also no more worrying about losing photos, having to store photos or photos being attached to the wrong policy.
With Policy Scan we have increased efficiency in our workflow and reduced our exposure on the risk.
Silvervine’s core administration solutions easily handles multiple carriers within multiple states, including accounting, payment processing, immediate policy issuance and endorsements.
What started out writing one product, one line in one state has now grown into mulitple products, multiple lines and writing in multiple states. We have over $95 million in annualized premium in-force and we expect to grow by 20% during the next year all serviced by Silvervine.
Silvervine was our insurance software system of choice when we started the company in 2006. Silvervine enabled us to begin business within a few months of licensing the company. Today, we are one of the top 20 homeowner’s writers in Texas and SIlvervine’s solutions have been an integral part of our success.