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What do self-driving cars mean for Missouri's drivers?

Every day, we take one more step into the future. Some days, those steps look bigger than others, especially when you look at the future of America's roadways.

The technology for self-driving cars is advancing rapidly, and the days of driverless taxis are coming soon. At least, that's what Uber hopes. The company recently unveiled the self-driving XC90 it developed in collaboration with Volvo. At the unveiling, Uber said it was moving quickly to deploy fleets of self-driving vehicles without safety drivers.

Self-driving cars still face questions of safety

Uber claims its new XC90 is much safer and more reliable than older models, but an earlier version of the XC90 was the first self-driving vehicle to claim a human life. The question of safety is important because Uber and other companies plan to launch whole fleets of self-driving cars. Every day, we get closer to the hour we'll see empty drivers' seats everywhere on our streets and highways.

But even when the automakers are ready, they may face an uphill battle to win the public's trust. CNBC recently reported that 42% of Americans said they would never ride in a self-driving car. Lawmakers have paid attention, too. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 29 states have passed new laws for self-driving cars, and the governors of 11 more states have used executive orders to address the vehicles. Missouri, however, is not among them.

Who pays the bills when self-driving cars cause crashes?

Missouri is a "fault" state for car insurance. After an accident, the courts and insurance companies look at the evidence to assign fault and financial responsibilities. The driver who was found to have the greatest fault ends up paying most or all of the damages. But self-driving cars can't pay, so who ends up paying when the courts and insurers blame a self-driving car for causing an accident?

So far, the automakers have largely avoided taking the blame. The courts blamed the safety driver in the case of Uber's fatal XC90 accident. Tesla avoided blame for the lethal accidents in which its self-driving cars were involved because the company had expressly said the cars weren't fully automated. Drivers were supposed to respond in certain situations.

Self-driving cars may force changes in auto insurance

As self-driving cars force the states to write new laws, those laws will likely weigh heavy on the auto insurance industry. Crashes with self-driving cars may stem from faulty products more than from bad actions, so crashes with self-driving cars may look more like product liability cases than standard car crashes.

Insurance companies have already been looking at the potential issues these cars may raise. According to an article in Bloomberg, some insurers feel they may need to change their whole system. They may need to insure the automakers for each model of car, rather than cover individual drivers.

The future is within sight

The future of Missouri's roadways may be more visible in other states than it is here, but it's coming. Despite all the Americans who don't want to ride in self-driving cars, the future may soon see tens of thousands of empty drivers' seats and lawsuits that explore whether data was used correctly.

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