Americans Most Worried About Hacking Risk of Driverless Cars

By Sonali Basak | October 3, 2017

U.S. residents are “polarized” on whether to embrace driverless cars, according to a survey by insurer American International Group Inc.

The 1,000 people polled were almost equally split on whether they were comfortable sharing the road with autonomous vehicles, with 42 percent generally OK with it and 41 percent saying they had reservations, AIG said in a statement Tuesday. A plurality of 39 percent said they thought such vehicles would operate more safely than the average driver.

Three-fourths of those surveyed said they think there’s a threat that hackers would take control of autonomous vehicles. Still, the majority said they don’t expect driverless cars will be on the road within the next two decades.

The insurance industry has been grappling with how best to deal with autonomous vehicles and the risks that the technology poses. Morgan Stanley said in a January report that the auto insurance business could be significantly disrupted by 2040 and that many firms would lose share if they didn’t find ways to adapt.

“Risk does not disappear – it shifts from humans to machines,” Lex Baugh, AIG’s president of liability and financial lines, said in the statement.

In one scenario where a fully driverless vehicle strikes a pedestrian, respondents felt the automaker (50 percent) and software provider (37 percent) would be most liable. Interestingly, 23 percent of respondents still see the vehicle’s occupant as having some form of liability, while 19 percent see the same for the vehicle’s owner. Not surprisingly, 81 percent of respondents think individuals who purchase or ride in fully driverless vehicles should still be required to have auto insurance.

For a similar accident involving a vehicle with automated assisted driving technology, the driver is seen as most liable (54 percent), though the automaker and software provider are still seen as substantially liable among respondents, at 33 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

“The need for personal auto insurance will not go away as driverless cars emerge. Though without doubt, we will see shifting of liability in certain scenarios,” says Gaurav D. Garg, CEO Personal Insurance, AIG. “There are many ways for the driverless vehicle story to unfold over the next several years. It is critical for insurers to carefully watch the trend to help prepare clients – both consumers and businesses.”

Thirty-five percent of respondents said automated features could help lower insurance premiums. Depending on the circumstances, those surveyed thought liability for accidents could lie with the car manufacturer, software provider or the driver.

Still, the changes may come slowly. On average, Americans surveyed think it will take 22 years for driverless vehicles with no active input from human drivers to represent more than 20 percent of the vehicles on the road and that it will take 34 years before the autos make up the majority of vehicles in the U.S. The most significant factors cited as delaying or preventing the wide availability of driverless vehicles include (respondents could select up to three options):

  • Costs will be too high (55 percent);
  • Computer systems won’t be adequately secured (41 percent);
  • People enjoy driving too much (41percent); and
  • The vehicles won’t be safe enough (35 percent).

A study by consulting firm AlixPartners last month concluded that the majority of U.S. consumers were unlikely to consider buying a self-driving car when they come to market.