• Driverless Electric Vehicles – Are we ready?


    Driverless electric vehicles are on the way, but when will they become a common sight, and more importantly, are we prepared?

    Driverless electric vehicles are just around the corner, with global brands such Google, Nissan and Audi identifying this as the future and investing heavily.

    Chancellor Phillip Hammond has paid tribute to driverless technology in his autumn budget by pledging £150 million to develop it further with the aim of having fully autonomous vehicles on the road by 2021.

    Despite much investment in developing driverless technology, there are several questions left unanswered. Are we prepared? Do we have the infrastructure in place to accommodate large numbers of autonomous, electrical vehicles on our roads within the next 3 years? And how will this affect people’s motor insurance?

    Are we ready?

    A shortage of charging points and a strain on energy supplies are the main stumbling blocks for electric, autonomous cars according to Amanda Blanc, UK boss* of AXA.

    Amanda is a Tesla driver herself, and has said personal experience pointed out the issue with electric cars. There are currently 125,000 electric cars on UK roads, but only 14,000 charging points and only 2,620 of these being “rapid charges” which can give a vehicle up to 80% charge in 30 minutes.

    So what does this mean for long-distance journeys? Will we be queuing to use charging points? Will vehicles be constantly running out of charge mid-journey?

    The other issue with large numbers of electric vehicles is the demand it will have on the nations power use. According to the National Grid, growth in electric vehicles on Britain’s roads could see a peak in electricity demand by more than the capacity of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station by 2030.

    Amanda also went on to explain “if suddenly everyone’s got one [an electric car] I’m not sure how the National Grid is going to cope with that. If in the Coronation Street break everyone goes to put the kettle on and that causes problems, just imagine what will happen if everybody comes home from work at 6 o’clock and switches their cars on to charge – we have to be smarter about renewables and regenerating electricity.”

    What do driverless cars mean to your insurance?

    Major investors are predicting 1 in 5 people will own an electric, autonomous vehicle within the next 7 years, so how will this affect their insurance?

    The question of who is liable if an autonomous, electric vehicle is involved in an accident was a major hurdle in the insurance industry, until recently.  This issue really comes to light as we enter a transitional period with partly autonomous vehicles where drivers are still legally liable, and fully autonomous vehicles where liability could still be considered a grey area. A clear example of this is the launch of the new Audi A8, which will be on the road later this year. The car can do most tasks without any input from the motorist, though at some points the driver may need to intervene.

    Insurers have warned that confusion over responsibility could leave drivers without cover for their own losses in the event of an accident.

    Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport, said “We are creating a new compulsory insurance framework that covers the use of automated vehicles and when the driver has legitimately handed control to the vehicle. This will ensure that victims have quick and easy access to compensation”.

    The Thatcham Research centre, a motoring organisation funded by the insurance industry, has asked the government to speed up the reform process going through  Parliament under the Automated and Electric Vehicle Bill.

    Despite the fact it is now a universally held opinion that driverless, electric vehicles are the future, the myriad of issues still facing them suggest the future is not as close as it may seem.