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Lights Out and Away We Go!: The rapidly changing world of motor insurance

Jonathan Fong discusses new vehicle technologies and the complex motor challenges that our members face. All of which will be addressed at the ABI Automated Vehicles: to ALKS and beyond event on the 19th October

Jonathan FongAs a Formula 1 fan, I constantly get asked “what’s so interesting about watching cars drive around in circles?” Putting aside the fact that there are no circular tracks on the F1 calendar, I usually mention something like the race craft during track battles or the politics and drama between the drivers and teams. But an underappreciated fact is how much F1 technology eventually trickles down into road cars. For example, adaptive suspensions, active aerodynamics, hybrid powertrains, and even paddle shifters and steering wheel buttons – all these technologies made their first appearance at the elite level of motorsport.

So, what does this all have to do with motor insurance? Well, it is just one example of how modern-day vehicles are becoming more sophisticated in the name of performance, comfort, or safety. Even entry-level models these days will feature various advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) including automatic emergency braking and intelligent speed assistance. The benefit of ADAS is that vehicles are becoming safer. However, vehicles are also becoming increasingly expensive to repair. No longer is a bumper just a piece of metal – it has different types of sensors that are costly to replace, and it requires technicians to have access to the right training and diagnostic tools to recalibrate those sensors.  

These sensors and cameras also mean that vehicles are becoming more akin to computers. Every new vehicle is a now a connected vehicle. The infotainment units allow customers to download apps, connect their cell phones, or even liaise with vehicle manufacturer to install software updates to their vehicles. This is a challenge to motor insurers for various reasons. Connected vehicles may be more susceptible to cyber attacks where bad actors gain access to personal information or even take over control of vehicle features. Additionally, this ability to update software ‘over-the-air’ could result in a situation where a vehicle’s risk profile changes at a push of a button.

Technological advancements are also bringing about the automation of certain parts of the driving task. Earlier this year, the Government announced that they would approve the UK’s first automated driving system: the Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS). ALKS will take over the steering, acceleration, and braking if certain requirements are fulfilled; in this case, ALKS can be used in queuing traffic on a motorway up to a certain speed and allows the driver to take their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road. This has big implications for insurers who, under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, will be liable for accidents while the vehicle is in automated driving mode, though maintaining the right of subrogation against other liable parties.

To broaden the understanding of some of those issues, the ABI is hosting an event on 19 October entitled: “Automated Vehicles: to ALKS and beyond…” The first part of the conference will discuss challenges that the wider automotive sector faces in the adoption of AV technologies and highlight how the insurance industry can support the safe introduction of ALKS. This will be followed by horizon scanning to assess what technologies are coming down the pipeline and how the entire automated vehicle ecosystem will need to respond. The event will feature experts representing Government, insurance, vehicle manufacturers, and tier one suppliers, and will be attended by key figures from across the insurance industry and automated vehicles sectors. To find out more and register for the event, please click here.

Furthermore, motor insurers aren’t sitting idly by while the industry is going through these rapid changes. Insurers have become partners in automated vehicle trials by providing the coverage which paves the way for risk taking that is required to research and develop these technologies; the ABI is working closely with the Department for Transport and the wider Government to develop robust policies and regulations around the Future of Transport; and our members are continually innovating to ensure that motor products are designed with the changing automotive sector in mind and, all the while, adapting to the geopolitical and macroeconomic challenges that have underscored these past years.

So, while I can’t say that it compares to watching Formula 1 cars scream down the Hangar Straight at Silverstone, it certainly is one of the most exciting times to be involved in motor insurance.

Last updated 21/09/2022