UK insurers detail the data they'll want from driverless cars

Because determining liability is going to be a messy business.

As car makers outfit their vehicles with more autonomous features, insurance providers are carefully weighing up how to cover owners of driverless cars while figuring out exactly who should be liable in an accident. The UK government agrees it's a major priority and has already laid down a common-sense framework to guide discussions, but the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has today published a specific list of rules that providers believe will best protect everyone involved.

Insurers are asking for a "basic set of core data" that will be shared in the event of an accident. It will tell them whether a car was operating in autonomous mode or being driven manually and indicate which features were in use at the time. Information would also include the time and GPS location of an incident, when the vehicle was placed into driverless mode and when the driver last interacted with it (including steering and braking), as well as whether there was someone in the driver's seat and whether their seatbelt was secured.

The ABI says that it would want data from 30 seconds before to 15 seconds after an accident. However, insurers stress that they wouldn't collect information on a driver's performance when operating a vehicle manually.

If that data was made available, insurers say they'd be in a better position to determine liability and share information to aid emergency services' investigations. There's also the argument that claims could be processed quicker. With relevant data at hand, manufacturers could be held responsible for faults in their technology, helping them to improve the safety of their products as a result.

With the government's consultation on driverless vehicle regulation now closed, car makers and insurers will wait to see what the UK has planned for the autonomous future. The World Forum for the Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, a body operating under the United Nations, will also bring its own rules into force in 2019. UK insurers want to help shape domestic and international regulations so that Britain's drivers can own and operate driverless cars without fear of unfair reprisals.