Truly self-driving, full-time autonomous vehicles are still probably years away, in any quantity bigger than test fleets strictly limited to clearly defined areas. But insurance companies and safety regulators are already starting to think through the nitty-gritty of what happens on the ground when inevitably, crashes happen between autonomous vehicles and cars driven by people the old-fashioned way.
Not surprisingly, most people wouldn’t know what steps to take if they had a collision with an autonomous vehicle, according to a Mercury Insurance survey. The insurance company recently announced the results of a survey in which 70 percent of the respondents said they wouldn’t know what to do.
In case of a crash with what Mercury Insurance calls an “automated” vehicle, the steps the insurance company recommends are pretty much a carbon copy of what to do when you’re in an accident with an ordinary vehicle. Except that with an automated vehicle, theoretically, there might be no other “driver” to exchange driver’s license and insurance information.
For example, the first steps involve commonsense measures like making sure everyone is OK and out of the roadway if possible, plus calling law enforcement, and emergency services if anyone’s injured.
Later steps also sound familiar to experienced drivers, such as recording the other vehicle’s license plate number, make and model, and getting the other vehicle’s Vehicle Identification Number if possible. Also if possible, the company recommends getting the names and contact information of any witnesses.
Meanwhile, despite the scarcity of autonomous vehicles, it also turns out the California Department of Motor Vehicles already has a dedicated form, specifically for reporting an accident with an “autonomous vehicle.”
Judging by files the California DMV makes public, the state uses the term “autonomous vehicle” loosely.
The reports include accounts of accidents involving vehicles with some limited self-driving features that aren’t truly “autonomous” as such, as well as vehicles equipped for autonomous-driving testing that was being driven in a conventional way when a collision occurred.
And to be fair to autonomous vehicles, several of the California DMV accident reports involve plain-vanilla vehicles being driven conventionally, which appear to have been at fault when they happened to collide with an autonomous (or partially automated) vehicle.