Insurance Benefits as Volvo Tackles Drink Driving
In their continued efforts to maintain a reputation for producing the safest cars in the world, Volvo have announced plans to reduce drink driving - by manufacturing cars that can detect and respond when a driver has been drinking alcohol. The cars will be designed to react to a drink driver in one of a number of ways, with the aim of making the vehicle, driver and other road users safe.
In the UK an estimated 230 people were killed in accidents involving a drink driver in 2016; a number which accounts for around 13% of all road traffic fatalities in that year. Over consumption of alcohol also causes approximately 5% of all reported car accident casualties.[i] Therefore, the prospect of eradicating drink driving related injury and fatalities is enormously significant.
While the devastating human cost of drink driving remains the main motivating factor behind the push to stamp out this dangerous habit, there is also a financial cost to driving under the influence of alcohol.
Insurers pay out figures in the millions to cover the financial claims resulting from drink driving accidents. While many insurers have clauses that exclude pay outs to drivers who are under the influence of alcohol, the companies still remain legally obliged to cover any third-party costs; which could run into the hundreds of thousands in the event of very serious injuries. While they may attempt to recoup these costs from the driver, the reality is that in all likelihood, the insurer will remain out of pocket. For insurance companies, the financial benefits of a reduction in drink driving are huge.
“Big Brother” or big benefit?
The technology would not only target drivers that are drunk. The system involves cameras and sensors that will be able to assess a number of types of erratic driving. This means that other problems that cause dangerous driving; such as driving under the influence of drugs, excessive tiredness and driving while distracted (for example, by a mobile phone), will also be identified. The system will work by analysing behaviours such as reaction times and whether a driver has their eyes on the road.
If the system records any concerning behaviours, this could trigger a (safe, hands free) call from the Volvo call centre. If warnings are ignored, then there is the potential for the car to autonomously slow down and park itself.[ii]
Volvo CEO, Hakan Samuelsson, acknowledges that some people will be against this type of system, thinking of it as Big Brother technology. However, he defends the company’s strategy, stating that as a life saving initiative, it is “worth it.”[iii]
With the potential to save hundreds of lives (and avoid thousands of injuries) a year, by enforcing the law regarding drink driving, most members of the public would agree that the benefits of this technology overshadow any negative impact.
Of course, this type of technology is not without risk. Volvo are keen to emphasise that all their safety innovations are not a replacement for driving with due care and attention. Samuelsson, speaks cautiously about the company’s safety features, highlighting the importance that consumers not believe the car is “more autonomous” than it, in fact, is. This could result in drivers relying on the car to restrict their own driving behaviours, putting the responsibility on the vehicle for reducing or avoiding accidents. This technology is intended to be a failsafe in the event of driver error; not an autopilot system to take over from a human driver.[iv]
How will this affect car insurance?
Insurers are certain to profit from these innovations, and Volvo is set to work together with insurers to make sure that these savings are passed on to policyholders. Volvo has stated that it is in discussion with insurers to get reductions for drivers using systems such as these.[v]
There are already insurance reductions available for drivers that have devices fitted to their car, monitoring driving styles such as speed and braking distances. This allows an individual to evidence their safe driving, resulting in reductions in their insurance premiums.
This new system moves the technology a step further, with the car not only monitoring and recording a driver’s style; but actually responding with safety measures when a driver is unfit to be at the wheel. Clearly, in reducing the possibility of accidents, the number of claims that insurers must pay will drop; which could be a saving of many millions of pounds. This in turn, will be a big draw for policyholders, to insurers willing to give reductions to clients using these safety features.
While Volvo is the instigator of this innovative new technology, other companies are sure to follow, and it is possible to imagine a future where drink driving is eradicated; good news indeed for everyone.
[i] Department for transport, (2018). Reported road casualties in Great Britain: Estimates for accidents involving illegal alcohol levels: 2016 (final). England: Department for Transport.
[ii] Independent. 2019. Volvo to add in-car sensors to stop drink or tired driving. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/motoring/rink-driving-volvo-autonomous-cars-sensors-a8833816.html. [Accessed 30 April 2019].
[iii] Reuters. 2019. Safety first - Volvo to add in-car sensors to prevent drunk driving. [ONLINE] Available at: https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-volvocars-safety/safety-first-volvo-to-add-in-car-sensors-to-prevent-drunk-driving-idUKKCN1R11RV. [Accessed 30 April 2019].
[iv] Independent. 2019. Volvo to add in-car sensors to stop drink or tired driving. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/motoring/rink-driving-volvo-autonomous-cars-sensors-a8833816.html. [Accessed 30 April 2019].
[v] Reuters. 2019. Safety first - Volvo to add in-car sensors to prevent drunk driving. [ONLINE] Available at: https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-volvocars-safety/safety-first-volvo-to-add-in-car-sensors-to-prevent-drunk-driving-idUKKCN1R11RV. [Accessed 30 April 2019].