Waymo's Insurance Plan For Drivers Doesn't Answer Who's To Blame Yet

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

While automakers and tech developers race to deploy fully-autonomous cars on the road, one question that’s still being worked out is who’s liable in the event of a crash. Google’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, delivered one possible answer on Tuesday: it’s teaming up with an insurance provider to cover everything from personal items to medical benefits for passengers who use the company’s driverless cars.


Trov, a five-year-old company that provides so-called “on-demand insurance” will provide coverage that’s customized for Waymo’s ride-hailing service. Waymo has said it plans to launch a driverless ride-hailing program for riders in Phoenix starting next year.

It’s an interesting concept. Through Trov, Waymo says it’ll insure riders for lost and damaged property as well as medical expenses. A spokesperson for Trov told Jalopnik that passengers won’t have to pay a separate fee.

“The coverage will be included as part of Waymo’s ride-hailing service, and covers lost or damaged personal articles/property, trip interruption, and medical expense reimbursement,” said Alex Pitocchelli, the spokesperson. You don’t actually select anything as a rider.”

The coverage is being underwritten for an undisclosed sum by a venture capital fund. It’ll only be used for passengers who ride in a fully-driverless vehicle, Trov’s CEO told the Wall Street Journal. (Waymo has said that any “driverless” cars that operate outside of the pilot program’s area will be accompanied by a safety engineer at the driver’s seat.)


There are some unknowns. For one thing, it’s not clear how much Trov would cover in the event of a crash. A spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on this, but we’ll update the post if we hear back.

It’s worth noting, because automakers and Silicon Valley don’t have a uniform stance on who’s liable in the event of a crash: a couple years back, Mercedes, Volvo, and Google all came out and said they’d be held responsible in the event of a crash. Others, like Tesla, have said they won’t. California recently shot down a General Motors-backed provision that would’ve seemingly let automakers dodge liability for crashes involving certain cars.


Waymo’s program is a step toward answering this important question. But, without clear, uniform regulations, assessing blame could be contingent on where a crash just happens to occur. That doesn’t seem workable at all.


Urambo Tauro

Blame can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. And just like with human drivers, it’s entirely possible for both parties to be at fault.

I’m sure that there will be plenty of examples where a HAV did everything right, but crashed anyway thanks to whomever was driving the other car. And there will probably also be instances of hardware/software failures that place the responsibility on the HAV manufacturer, or whomever was supposed to be maintaining that car.