Will any driver van insurance offer protection against driverless car hackers?

Can any driver van insurance really be what it claims to be if it does not offer cover in the event of your vehicle being suddenly commandeered by a hacker – if that’s not the purest definition of “any driver”, with all its connotations of randomness, then what is?

This is one of the questions all providers of any driver van insurance products should ask themselves as they approach the increasingly inevitable age of driverless cars. Even today as every week brings yet another breakthrough in technology, with driverless cars and vans beginning to wend their way through our streets, there is a tendency to think of them in the abstract, as somehow belonging to the screens and pages of science-fiction.

As long as they continue to exist only in theory, it is hard to see insurers and indeed the van-driving public thinking of them as something they will not have to plan for. However, behind the scenes, the automotive and motor insurance industries are beginning to look in detail at the many issues for which contingency must be made. Fortunately, there are also signs that consumers are thinking about the issues that matter.

For example, research carried out in 2016 by road safety charity IAM RoadSmart found that 74% of drivers want, come the advent of driverless vehicles, protection against hackers being able to remotely access their control systems.

This in many ways goes to the heart of human concerns about driverless cars; we all fear losing control and there are few thoughts in the vehicular world as disturbing as that of being trapped in a car or van powerless to do anything to stop the malign interference of a remote control hacker. Against this background, any concern about who is going to pick up the bill might seem secondary, but consider this thought: it can hardly be considered a vote of confidence in the technology if insurance companies are not prepared to pick up the bill for accidents caused by hackers.

The IAM survey, which is being used to guide its response to the Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles’ consultation, Pathway to Driverless Cars, asked 1,200 van fleet managers for views on what the driverless future might look like.

Around half of all respondents said they thought it was van insurance companies themselves who should be picking up the bill. However, fewer remained committed to this view when told that it might add to the cost of their policies.

The impact of new technologies is notoriously difficult to predict – one need only think of the Hollywood executive who failed to invest in “talkie” technology because he felt that audio in films would never catch on. However, it is interesting that most drivers surveyed said that they were against driverless technology, particularly without any form of occupant in the car.

Director of policy and research at IAM RoadSmart, Neil Greig, commented, “In our view it is logical that hacking electronic systems in autonomous vehicles is treated the same way as a traditionally stolen vehicle, with the insurer bearing the cost.”

“Previous research we have carried out shows that road users are by and large excited about their development. But they still have concerns about responsibility, especially when it comes down to liability.”

For now these are just academic questions, but the reality is that pretty soon they are going to be practical ones – time does seem to fly by – and it may seem some way off, but before long van drivers and fleet managers across the country will be visiting any driver van insurance companies looking for quotes for driverless vehicles, and there can be little doubt that, one way or another, drivers will be insured against the possibility of hackers. If that’s not the case, it’s hard to see how autonomous vehicles will ever be allowed to take to the road.