In the event of a bang - when the autonomous control fails

An autonomously driving vehicle at the IAA in Munich

From Harald Kaiser

Car owners will be asked in a few years' time: Who pays if the robot fails at the wheel and it crashes as a result? Now there are the first answers. 

Normal people will not have noticed anything. Largely unnoticed by the public, the federal government has rammed stakes into the ground for the future of an important topic: In the summer, the regulatory framework for driverless driving was created with the law on autonomous driving. As the first country in the world. The law, published on July 27, 2021 in the Federal Gazette, bears the cumbersome headline “Law amending the Road Traffic Act and the Compulsory Insurance Act - it - law on autonomous driving”. This defines what the robot must be able to do at the wheel in the future and what role it will play. After all, one day, instead of humans, this technical system will have the supervision of an autonomous automobile that steers, brakes, stops, turns, stays in lane or flashes by itself.

It goes without saying that questions arise in this regard, because autonomous vehicles will, especially at the beginning of their development, be like a novice driver who is learning. One of the most important questions is likely to be: What about the insurance coverage? The major insurer Allianz has now given an answer to this: No problem. At the 9th Allianz Autotag * at the end of September, CEO Klaus-Peter Röhler stated verbatim: "We will also offer" autonomous novice drivers "and" technical supervision "insurance cover and insure them under liability insurance." error-free, there will also be accidents in the future, especially in mixed traffic with non-autonomous vehicles. The public's trust in autonomous systems is only guaranteed if the causes of accidents - including near misses - can be clarified. Röhler emphasized that “it is now important that we find a sensible solution for Europe that will allow us to continue to solve traffic accidents in an uncomplicated manner in order to quickly compensate road traffic victims and not destroy the population's trust in the new technology ”.

Data must be available to clarify accidents

In the future, data from systems such as radar, lidar (optical measurements) and camera recordings would be required to investigate accidents. This is the only way to record and evaluate accidents or near-misses with pedestrians, for example. "Unfortunately, the use of this data in Europe is currently not adequately regulated," said Röhler. The requirement that follows from the current situation is clear: To protect personal data, a Europe-wide, independent data trustee is necessary, who checks whether there is a legitimate interest in investigating the accident, and who can provide the data required for this by means of standardized and non-discriminatory data access Makes available to authorized persons. This data would also have to be made available in anonymised form to accident research and the automotive industry so that errors can be corrected quickly and the systems improved.

Another point of discussion at the conference was the owner himself. The owner's liability ensures that the innocent traffic victim is fully protected, even with automated driving systems. Nevertheless, it will happen in the future that the owner can also be injured if he is at the wheel of his automated vehicle and there is, for example, an accident because the self-driving technology has failed. Since the owner cannot make any claims against himself according to the current legal situation, he would only have one claim from the product liability law against the manufacturer. Allianz is of the opinion that the car owner in his vehicle must also be legally protected if he did not contribute to the accident through a mistake of his own, for example by ignoring an error message. "We are discussing a product solution for Germany in which in future, as an exception, the vehicle owner will also be integrated into the protection of the motor vehicle insurance in the event of an accident caused by the vehicle," said Röhler.

The congress also raised the question of whether and how the damage caused by electric cars differs from vehicles with conventional drives. Answer: There are no fundamental differences. In the case of accident repairs, on the other hand, you can see clear differences that result from the standards or manufacturer specifications for the repair of electric vehicles. For example, an economic total loss can quickly occur if the manufacturer's specifications stipulate that the battery must be disposed of after the airbag has been triggered. Even a high-voltage cable that has been bitten by a marten cannot be repaired today. This increases the cost of claims significantly. A necessary cable set can cost up to 7000 euros. But there is another way: some automobile companies use protective coatings that can be exchanged. This could reduce repair costs by up to 97 percent.

Electric cars burn much less often than combustion engines

An important finding from an investigation by the Allianz Technical Center (ATZ) was that seriously damaged electric vehicles could incur additional expenses for the owner in addition to the repair costs. In principle, a Stromer can only be repaired in a workshop that has a qualification for "intrinsically safe HV vehicles". Whereby the abbreviation HV stands for high voltage. If the intrinsic safety is no longer given due to severe damage - and this is the case with a relatively small but expensive portion of the damage - then the qualification of the workshop personnel is not sufficient. Allianz knows from claims experience that these delays in claims processing lengthen the repair time. Another difference to accident repairs of vehicles with conventional drives is that the battery of pure electric cars still contains a lot of energy even when the system is no longer functional, which makes recovery difficult and causes additional costs due to the necessary fire prevention.

The investigation has also shown that accident repairs are the greatest lever for a favorable insurance classification, even for electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are similar to gasoline-powered vehicles in terms of type class and distribution of damage types, while plug-in hybrids are similar to diesel cars. This is explained by the different use of the two types of vehicle. Purely electric drives have so far been used primarily in urban environments, analogous to gasoline drives. The plug-in hybrids, on the other hand, are often used in larger models suitable for long journeys and are therefore more similar to diesel vehicles in terms of damage. Last but not least, a number that makes it clear what the fire risk of electric cars is like is interesting. Around 15.000 car fires are reported annually in Germany. The share of electric vehicles in this is far below one percent. "In our study we still do not see a higher probability of fire in electric vehicles compared to conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles," says Carsten Reinkemeyer, Head of Safety Research at AZT.





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