Pendarvis Harshaw

Have you heard? There's now an insurance policy for driverless vehicles! It is offered only by a single insurance company in Britain.

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The policy is a product of Adrian Flux Insurance Services, which The Guardian reports has about 600,000 customers. The new policy, which the company is touting as "the first of its type," reportedly offers a standard car insurance policy, plus the following:

  • Loss or damage to your car caused by hacking or attempted hacking of its operating system or other software

  • Updates and patches to your car’s operating system, firewall, and mapping and navigation systems that have not been successfully installed within 24 hours of you being notified by the manufacturer

  • Satellite failure or outages that affect your car’s navigation systems

  • Failure of the manufacturer’s software or failure of any other authorised in-car software

  • Loss or damage caused by failing when able to use manual override to avoid an accident in the event of a software or mechanical failure

Hacking, buggy code, navigation failures, loss of service. It's basically a list of everything that could go horribly wrong with your driverless car. For the record, the last bullet point happened last month when a Tesla owner crashed his car while on autopilot.

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Adrian Flux has yet to respond to my request to see the full policy, or to a question about how much it differs from existing policies, but I'll update this post if they get back to me. Update: No answer to my question, but a rep did share the full policy, which appears to have been written by a different insurer, Trinity Lane.

Let's get something out of the way: this is almost certainly a publicity stunt. Insurance is a giant industry that changes very slowly. This isn't a whole new policy; it's an add-on to standard policies. And because fully-automated cars won't be on the road in Britain until at least 2020, according to the Guardian, this will actually be used by people with normal 'driver' cars that have quasi-automated features like assisted parking, advanced cruise control and the autopilot system on some Teslas.

Adrian Flux is practiced at such stunts; this is the company that brought us "Flux Babes," scantily clad female employees who do promotional work for the company.

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While there have been calls to make human driving illegal, driverless cars aren't publicly available yet, though they do seem inevitable and may make roads safer. But even if driverless cars are safer, we're still talking about large metal computers traveling at high speeds in close proximity to each other. The good thing about this press-hungry policy is that it points out what could go wrong. Automated systems rely on software, and software is hard. It screws up, humans find ways to screw it up, and the systems it relies upon to work fail. As Wired's Andy Greenberg aptly demonstrated, you don't even need a car to be fully-automated for its automated parts to be hacked.

Of course, it's the stock-in-trade of insurance companies to quantify and buy that risk. So thanks, Adrian Flux, for reminding us that even after the robots take over, our frail meat forms will still be subject to the cruel vicissitudes of fate.

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Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at ethan.chiel@fusion.net