On May 15, 2019, Providence rolled out a pilot(less) program of six self-driving shuttles providing service between the Providence train station and Olneyville Square called Little Rhody. The program is slated to run for a year providing free shuttle service to twelve stops on the 5.3 mile route connecting neighborhoods with limited access to public transportation and downtown Providence. The shuttles are battery-powered, holding six passengers and have a maximum speed of 25mph.

Also on May 15, 2019 one of these shuttles was pulled over by a Providence police officer because he was curious about this odd looking vehicle. No tickets were issued, it was merely an opportunity for the officer to learn a bit about the vehicles and the program.

Six of these micro-shuttles have hit the road in Providence.
Photo credit: RI DOT website

The shuttles are autonomous but do have an operator that can take control of the vehicle if needed. If you want to check out the route, you can click over here for a live look at the shuttles!

The idea of the self-driving vehicle has been a hot issue of late, especially with the release of Tesla’s Autopilot feature. As the technology evolves and becomes more prevalent on our roadways, big questions surround how to legislate and insure these vehicles.

Self-driving or autonomous vehicles (AV) will rely on a wide variety of technologies that will make assigning liability very different than the current way accident responsibility is handled. Current insurance covers the liability of the driver of the vehicle should they cause damage to another vehicle or property. But what happens in an autonomous vehicle crash?

The technology involved in self-driving cars is extensive and still evolving. At this time the tech is all within the vehicle, but for fully autonomous vehicles to operate at optimum levels it is expected that city/town/state infrastructures will have to be developed and implemented. So how do you assess risk and create insurance for these types of vehicles?

According to the experts the humans won’t be the driving factor behind the risk…it may broaden to incorporate the vehicle manufacturers and licensors of the AV software and potentially to local municipalities in cities/town that provide AV “beacons”. And the issue of “fault” will be a tough determination.

  • If the lidar fritzes out, is it the vehicle manufacturer’s fault or the lidar supplier’s? Same for the electronic eye or camera systems.
  • If the driver fails to download a system update, is this enough of a “failure” to make the accident 100% human error?
  • What if the driver takes control to reduce an AV crash…how do you “share” fault?
  • For vehicles that rely on cell towers to provide communications (such as Super Cruise in Cadillacs), if a cellular provider suffers an outage and vehicles crash are they liable?
  • How do you protect the vehicle owner from hackers taking over their system and causing a crash?
  • Who’s responsible if a municipalities’ “beacon” system fails and AV chaos ensues?

These are huge issues and will need serious research and data to finalize any determinations, but thankfully we are still years away from our robot car travel future. What do you think, are you looking forward to the day when all become passengers in our vehicles? Do you think the current technology will make our roads safer?

Check out this video of a Level 4 AV test drive! The current Tesla technology is considered Level 2. I have to say, watching this is a little unnerving when the car is in full autonomous mode.

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