“When you change the mobility of people and how they get from here to there, it changes the world fundamentally,” says Thom Rickert, VP, head of marketing and emerging risk specialist at Trident Public Risk Solutions.
The world should brace itself, then, because sooner rather than later, machines are going to take over the steering wheel and transform transportation forever.
Fully autonomous vehicles aren’t likely to become the norm until around 2050, but highly automated vehicles are already becoming a reality. Most vehicles on the road today, according to a recent Lockton report, fall within the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International’s designation of levels zero through two. That is, on a scale of one to five, five is a fully self-driving vehicle, whereas zero indicates no automation.
Highly automated vehicles falling within the middle categories have automated functions, ranging from stability control and braking automation to lane centering.
These are the vehicles that are going to change the world of today.
“What we will see first is the release of things that will assist the vehicle-to-vehicle communication,” says Rickert. “That will save countless lives because accidents happen when a driver changes lanes and the other driver on the road isn’t aware of it. If both cars are giving warnings of something impending and know what the speed and the braking distance is, that will stop a lot of accidents.”
That will have a significant impact on business and society. “There is a waterfall of consequences for that,” says Rickert. “Fewer accidents mean fewer auto claims, lower rates, fewer cars running stoplights, less police activity required for traffic enforcement resulting in lower budgets, reduced police force, and the list goes on.”
The time to start anticipating the changes is today. “Highly autonomous vehicles and driverless vehicles are not ‘where’s my jet pack?’ kinds of things. They are going to be here,” Rickert says. “It’s not that far off where risk managers in transportation and in public entities really have to think about how they’re going to deal with the exposure.”
For some, immediate action is necessary. “If you’re a risk manager for a transportation company, you have to have a plan now,” he says. “Cities and towns are going to have highly autonomous vehicles within technologically gated areas operating within the next five years. They’re going to leave the testing ground – which is where they are now – and they’re going to be used in real life situations.”
Risk managers, he says, will have a lot of questions to answer. Where will the vehicles be deployed? How will they be deployed? Under what conditions will we stop running them?
Trident is already working with public entities to tackle the insurance part of the risk management equation. “We insure cities and towns that have test vehicles deployed in their cities on public streets during commuter traffic, so the exposures are there. The way the operating agreements should be structured and the way liability is being assumed by the testing companies provides a level of protection for cities and towns today.”
But it’s never too early to plan for the next stage. “In the future when their infrastructure, their traffic lights, are tied into the vehicles, that’ll change the calculus.”