A British automotive insurer has offered to reduce insurance premiums 5% for drivers who turn on Autopilot. The insurer, Direct Line, says it doesn’t yet actually know with certainty whether Autopilot makes cars safer.
Direct Line said it was too early to say whether the use of the autopilot system produced a safety record that justified lower premiums. It said it was charging less to encourage use of the system and aid research.
But I have to imagine Direct Line believes Autopilot will make cars safer, even if it doesn’t know that for sure. After all, they’re not offering 5% off to customers who drive blindfolded, on the theory that they need more research on that topic.
Although Direct Line is a UK company, the financial angle of autonomous systems ties in closely tactics that the US government has used in the past. Famously, the federal government did not directly mandate a drinking age of 21, but rather tied federal highway funds to whether states raised their drinking age to 21.
I can imagine a future scenario in which the government doesn’t mandate the use of autonomous vehicles, but rather a combination of governmental and insurance incentives push drivers gently or not-so-gently toward taking their hands off the wheel.