Analysis: the next great leap forward in motoring brings a myriad of questions and issues around data, insurance and law enforcement

By Martin Mullins and Finbarr Murphy, University of Limerick

It’s a question of relative speed. Technology just motors ahead, be it nanotechnology or automated vehicles, and governance struggles to keep pace. This is true of regulation, legal frameworks, applied ethics and indeed liability regimes. The Emerging Risk Group, based in the Department of Accounting and Finance within the Kemmy Business School at University of Limerick works on spanning the gap between emerging technologies and their attendant regulatory and liability requirements. 

Our last two projects are really fascinating and put us in the vanguard of development in one of the most disruptive and valuable technological revolutions taking place. Automated vehicles mean that today’s toddlers might never drive a car and implies a complete change in our relationship with the automobile. It will also save millions of lives globally.

The insurance industry is naturally paying close attention to developments in this field. The motor insurance business in Europe is worth some €130 billion per annum and is, in all likelihood, going to be completely transformed over the next 10 to 20 years.

If a semi-automatic car detects you are driving irresponsibly, should it call the police and report you?

The two EU Horizon 2020 projects we are involved with are the Horizon 2020-funded Cloud-LSVA, and VI-DAS. The former is a highly technical enterprise devoted to the problem of just how we manage the massive quantities of data automated vehicles are going to generate.

VI-DAS takes a more holistic view of the questions that surround this technology by putting forward the notion of 720 degrees of surveillance that is both within the car or truck and taking in the outside environment. Cameras within the vehicle will gather information about the driver and his or her state of readiness to take control of the vehicle. This is important because, for the next decade or so given the probable state of digital infrastructure cars will, on occasion, hand back the control of the vehicle to the driver. The consortia is led by the Spanish research group, Vicomtech and includes IBM, Intel, TomTom, Valeo, Honda Research and others. 

Should your insurance company be able to tap into data about your behaviour behind the wheel and price your risk accordingly?

There is a myriad of ethical and legal dilemmas facing this new technology. In the future, cars will be able to provide a very accurate picture of a driver’s behaviour behind the wheel. One question that immediately arises is who should have access to this data. For example, should your insurance company be able to tap into data and price your risk accordingly? Similar issues and ethical questions arise with law enforcement. If a semi-automatic car detects you are driving irresponsibly, should it call the police and report you?

Our core message is one that speaks to the sustainable roll-out of any new technology. Our target audience has been the EU Commission, auto manufacturers and major research institutions across Europe. Working closely with insurers such as XL Catlin and the Lloyd’s market, we provide a bridge between scientists and technologists and the insurance underwriters who may assume the risks inherent in their innovations. The pitch is pretty simple "if you can’t insure it, you can’t do it – allow us to help you communicate with the insurance industry."

This piece originally appeared in UL Links

Dr Martin Mullins is the head of the Department of Accounting & Finance and Senior Lecturer in Insurance at the Kemmy Business School at the University of Limerick. Dr Finbarr Murphy is a lecturer in Finance in the Department of Accounting & Finance at the Kemmy Business School at the University of Limerick and Principal Investigator in three European Commission H2020 research projects.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ