Tag Archives: self-driving cars

When Incumbents Downplay Disruption…

An unmanned car driven by a search engine company? We’ve seen that movie. It ends with robots harvesting our bodies for energy.

That is a line from a 2011 Chrysler car commercial mocking Google’s self-driving car project.

Another Chrysler commercial was even blunter: “Robots can take our food, our clothes and our homes. But, they will never take our cars.”

Chrysler’s early mocking of Google’s efforts exemplifies the fact that few cling to the status quo tighter than the companies that best understand it and have the most stake in preserving it. It is human nature to value what one does well and look askance at innovations that challenge the assumptions underlying current success. Sprinkle in some predictably irrational wishful thinking and you have the mindset that too quickly dismisses potentially dangerous disruptions.

Ironically, seven years later, those Google “robots” are now mostly driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Those robots have taken Chrysler’s cars and driven more than 10 million miles. Chrysler benefits by selling cars to Waymo, the spinoff from that Google project, but not nearly as much as it might have from building the robots themselves. Waymo is valued at $175 billion, about five times Chrysler’s market value.

History brims with other examples.

When Alexander Graham Bell offered to sell his telephone patents to Western Union, the committee evaluating the deal concluded:

Messrs. Hubbard and Bell want to install one of their ‘telephone devices’ in every city. The idea is idiotic on the face of it… This device is inherently of no use to us. We do not recommend its purchase.

Ken Olsen, who disrupted IBM’s mainframe dominance with his DEC minicomputers, mocked the usefulness of personal computers in their early days. He declared, “The personal computer will fall flat on its face in business.” Olsen was very wrong, and DEC would eventually be sold to Compaq Computer, a personal computer maker, for a fraction of its peak value.

See also: Why AI IS All It’s Cracked Up to Be  

Steve Ballmer’s initial ridicule of Apple’s iPhone is also legendary, though the words of the then-CEO of Microsoft were mild compared with the disdain on his face when asked to comment on the iPhone launch.

Years later, after he retired, Ballmer insisted that he was right about the iPhone in the context of mobile phones at the time. What he missed, he admitted, was that the strict separation of hardware, operating system and applications that drove Microsoft’s success in PCs wasn’t going to reproduce itself on mobile phones. Ballmer also didn’t recognize the power of the business model innovation that allowed the iPhone’s high cost to be built into monthly cell phone bills and to be subsidized by mobile operators. (Jump to the 4:00 mark.)

The biggest challenge for successful business executives—like Ballmer, Olsen and those at Western Union—when confronted with potentially disruptive innovations is to think deeply about potential strategic shifts, rather than simply mock innovations for violating current assumptions.

Another perhaps soon-to-be classic example is unfolding at State Farm Insurance.

State Farm released an TV ad that is a thinly veiled attack on Lemonade, a well-funded insurtech startup. Lemonade makes wide use of AI-based chatbots for customer service. State Farm, instead, prides itself on its host of human agents. In the ad, a State Farm agent says:

The budget insurance companies are building these cheap, knockoff robots to compete with us… These bots don’t have the compassion of a real State Farm agent.

As I’ve previously written, AI is one of six information technology trends that is reshaping every information-intensive industry, including insurance. In fact, as I recently told a group of insurance executives, I believe insurance will probably change more in the next 10 to 15 years than it has in the last 300.

See also: Lemonade Really Does Have a Big Heart  

That doesn’t mean that Lemonade’s use of chatbots for customer service will destroy State Farm. But, as State Farm should know, customer-service chatbots are only one of numerous innovations that Lemonade is bringing to the game. As several McKinsey consultants point out, AI-related technologies are driving “seismic tech-driven shifts” in a number of different aspects of insurance. Lemonade has also adopted a mobile-first strategy and is applying behavioral economics to drive other business model innovations.

State Farm executives need to get beyond the mocking and think deeply about how emerging innovations might disrupt their strategic assumptions.

One way to do so is being offered at InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, where ITL editor-in-chief and industry thought leader Paul Carroll has offered a “State Farm Lemonade Throw Down.” Carroll offers to host an online debate between the two firms’ CEOs about how quickly AI technology should be integrated into interactions with customers.

Lemonade’s CEO, Daniel Schreiber, has accepted. I hope Michael Tipsord, State Farm’s CEO, will accept, as well.

Better for Mr. Tipsord to face the question now, while there is ample time to still out-innovate Lemonade and other startups, than to be left to reflect on what went wrong years later, as Steve Ballmer had to do with the iPhone.

Will Technology Kill Auto Insurance?

The auto insurance industry has been experimenting with technology and tools that are completely changing the way we think about cars.

Self-driving vehicles, ride-sharing and vehicles that include their own insurance in the sticker price are all recent innovations — innovations whose long-term effects are not yet known.

With the rise of autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing came questions about liability and its related coverage: Who will insure self-driving cars? Who is liable in a ride-sharing accident scenario? As vehicle fleets replace individual ownership, who should carry the coverage necessary to pay medical bills, repair costs and other losses in case of a crash?

The changes on the horizon have prompted some commentators, like Deutsche Bank’s Joshua Shanker, to predict that today’s auto insurance industry simply won’t exist in 20 years.

Is the demise of auto insurance imminent? Is it likely? Here, we explore the pressures on traditional auto insurance and the ways the field may shift in the next one to two decades.

Self-Driving Cars: Who Will Insure Them?

Self-driving cars are predicted to change the driving habits of entire nations — and to significantly reduce the cost of auto insurance. A 2015 study by Metromile and Ferenstein Wire estimated that self-driving vehicles would save their owners nearly $1,000 a year on insurance premiums on average, according to Gregory Ferenstein.

The study was based in part on data showing that, as of 2015, none of Google’s self-driving vehicles had been in an accident caused by the technology, only by human error, reported Adrienne LaFrance at The Atlantic. Since then, there have been notable instances of tech errors leading to accidents, including the March 2018 death of a pedestrian. More on that in a minute.

Still, many commentators have drawn the same conclusion from the data: Prevented accidents mean prevented claims, which will reduce premiums. Even big name investors like Warren Buffett have made such predictions with regard to self-driving vehicles, CNBC’s Elizabeth Gurdus reports.

See also: Industry 4.0: What It Means for Insurance  

The Reality on the Ground

Yet the reality may not be so easy to achieve. For one thing, self-driving cars have yet to be tested in the same wide range of conditions human drivers face daily, says Peter Hancock, a professor of psychology and engineering at the University of Central Florida. Seeing how these cars handle bad roads, inclement weather and similar challenges is essential to understanding whether they’ll really replace human drivers — and how to insure them if they do.

In 2015, Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson said that Volvo would accept “full liability” for any losses occurring when a Volvo vehicle was in full autonomous mode, indicating a future in which liability coverage for self-driving vehicles is a question of product liability, not driver behavior.

Yet, to date, other automakers haven’t rushed to join Volvo in making a similar promise. While Google and Mercedes have self-insured, as a rule “auto manufacturers are not that keen on taking on the insurance risk,” says Rick Huckstep at the Digital Insurer. Automakers have spent billions of dollars on developing automated technologies, and “they didn’t do this to then have to carry 100% liability for whatever happens on the road.”

Revising Timelines

Even if self-driving cars adopt a commercial liability or product liability approach to coverage, thus eliminating the need for individual drivers’ coverage, a 10- to 15-year timeline may still be ambitious, says Simon Walker, group chief executive at First Central Group. The technology, while ever more widely tested, is not yet commonplace.

Determining regulatory, licensing and liability questions will likewise take years; attempts to start that process now have met with uncertainties because the tech isn’t in common use. Customers will need to gain confidence in autonomous vehicles, and their driver-required cars will have to age their way onto the scrap heap.

All this is unlikely to happen in just 10 years, or even in 20. And with 10 to 20 years, auto insurers have time to adapt. Some have already begun, in fact. Julia Kollewe at the Guardian cites Adrian Flux, a U.K. insurer, which in 2016 announced what it called the first-ever auto insurance policy for driverless vehicles. The policy covers not only the conventional situations other policies address, but also autonomous-vehicle-specific topics like software updates, satellite or navigation system failure and loss or damage from hacking.

If this U.K. company can do it, says Julia Eddington at the Zebra, so can U.S. companies, although they may face more complexity due to the overlapping world of state and federal regulations. As of mid-2018, however, 29 states had enacted driverless vehicle liability laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which could pave the way for faster adaptation by existing auto insurers.

Improved Safety Features: Are Crash-Proof Cars Possible?

Self-driving cars aren’t the only way that technology may end the need for auto accident coverage. Safety technology is improving, as well, and Volvo’s promise to cover liability for its cars while in autonomous mode isn’t the only goal the automaker has set to change the vehicle liability landscape.

In 2008, Volvo announced an ambitious plan: to create a crash-proof vehicle that would result in zero injuries or deaths, and to do it by 2020. In 2013, according to Viknesh Vijayenthiran at Motor Authority, and again in 2016, Volvo announced its intention to stay on track to create its injury- and death-free vehicles by 2020.

Volvo still has a little more than a year to reach this goal, and its statistics indicate the company is on the right track. Volvo won a 2018 Which? Award in the U.K. for “the company’s solid safety record that put it ahead of other short-listed candidates.”

Awards and strong statistics are evidence that Volvo is moving in the right direction when it comes to safety, but until this technology is perfected, insurance coverage remains a necessity — and completely autonomous driving technology still has a long way to go.

A Car and Its Coverage: A Package Deal?

Tesla is also betting on the safety of its technological advances, and in a way that presents an additional challenge to traditional insurance companies: by including auto insurance coverage in the sticker price of their vehicles.

Tesla is experimenting with selling “insurance and maintenance included” vehicles in Asia, according to Business Insider’s Danielle Muoio. The price for insurance and maintenance incorporates Tesla’s data about the car’s safety features, including its autopilot system. By including the insurance price in the car, Tesla says, the company believes it offers a better deal to consumers, because many auto insurance companies don’t account for the autopilot system in the same way Tesla does.

Tesla may have a point. “If you’re hoping to shave down your premiums, buying an automated vehicle might not be the right move,” Shift Insurance head of business development Raphael Locsin tells Entrepreneur. However, some companies do consider certain other driver assistance features, like electronic stability, when calculating discounts.

Insurance companies’ hesitation may be prudent at the moment. A March 2018 Tesla crash with the autopilot turned on proved fatal for the driver, according to Jack Stewart at Wired.

Selling vehicles, autonomous or otherwise, with the insurance included in the sales price offers a hybrid approach between purchasing coverage from traditional auto insurers and placing the burden on automakers to cover their vehicles as consumer products. While Tesla has gambled on the approach, it remains the only automaker to do so; even the products-liability model has had more buy-in from the makers of self-driving vehicles and their technology.

“Insurance included” models seem the least likely of the self-driving insurance options to threaten the traditional auto insurance industry in the next two decades. Yet they indicate a willingness of companies to take risks to try new models, which are worth noticing.

What to Expect in the Near Future

Self-driving vehicles piloted by technology that prevents accidents is a powerful vision of the future. It provides a sense of excitement and hope.

It also provides challenges to traditional auto insurance companies, many of which are already struggling with auto insurance premiums in a world where many people have eliminated vehicles from their lifestyles. For a $220 billion industry that supports more than a quarter million jobs, the threat is significant, says Patrick Lin at Forbes.

Yet technology’s death knell for auto insurance may not be as close as it appears.

Driver involvement in vehicle operation is likely to be a necessity for many more years, and drivers will need insurance as long as they must take the wheel. Human error will continue to be a factor in accidents. And demand for insurance against theft, acts of nature and technological glitches will persist even in a world where cars do their own driving.

Why AI IS All It’s Cracked Up to Be

A lot of people are talking about the promise of artificial intelligence (AI), and some say it’s too early to evaluate its long-term impact. I disagree. I believe we need to evaluate AI’s value now, because it’s already beginning to fundamentally change the way auto insurers do business.

A sweeping statement, perhaps, but there’s a lead-up to this discussion that is creating the perfect storm for P&C insurers.

First, insurer performance is challenging, and most every insurer I speak with is racing to identify ways to reduce expenses while continuing to offer desirable products to savvy consumers — consumers who expect insurance to be delivered and serviced just as seamlessly as their interactions with their favorite online retailer.

Next, vehicle complexity is making it extremely difficult to price risk, predict frequency (largely due to advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS) and understand increasing repair costs, thanks to enhanced electronic content, such as the sensors in newer vehicles.

In this environment, AI can play a critical role, helping insurers bring expenses back in line while creating opportunities to deliver a better insurance experience for consumers. And, as vehicles become more connected, streaming more data, the role of AI will only grow.

AI Now

If you’re still not clear on what exactly AI is, it refers to programs that are capable of learning to make decisions more like humans. AI is at work all around us – when robots control other robots on the manufacturing line, intelligently automating the management and optimization of financial portfolios, detecting cancer using MRIs and machine vision and powering self-driving cars. In fact, AI is becoming so prevalent it’s expected to create $1.2 trillion in business value by the end of this year and $3.9 trillion by 2022.

AI in Insurance

It’s now our industry’s turn to put AI to work. What we’re seeing in other industries is now happening in claims. AI is being injected into key points in the claim process, helping to create value that can be seen (and felt) inside and outside the organization. Meaning, AI done right can yield improvements designed to enhance the experience of all stakeholders.

From an internal efficiencies perspective, consider AI’s impact on workflow challenges. As just one example, let’s look at the value of mobility and IoT, telematics in particular, because this is foundational to AI-driven improvements in processes. As you read on, think about all the existing processes and labor currently linked to your own auto claims area, because even the workflow that initiates a claim–in place for a hundred years–is now being changed, thanks to AI.

See also: Strategist’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence  

The New Claims Workflow

There is a new claims workflow taking hold right now, not some point in the future.

First, policyholders won’t call the insurer when they experience an accident—the insurer will contact him/her. This is because the insurer will apply AI to telematics data, setting an alert tagged to view the rate of change of the vehicle and determine in real time that there has been an accident.

Now apply AI-driven conversations via chatbots with customers at scale, in real time, to guide them through the claims process after that accident occurs. In our example, the chatbot asks the claimant for a photograph—an automated, back-end review determines suitability of the photograph, enabling the insurer to determine with high accuracy and in real time whether the vehicle is likely to be a total loss or repairable and advises the policyholder accordingly. Fast, transparent communication.

If the damage is repairable, the chatbot asks for additional facts and photos. The insurer detects location and severity of the damage by automatically comparing it against millions of collision variables and applying predictive, model-driven AI. Heat maps are used as visible illustrations of the damage, building credibility with your policyholder.

The internal workflow changes further when virtual inspections are powered by AI. Remote appraisers can be given photos, heat maps and even a guided estimating tool, reducing time and effort in the field and yielding higher accuracy and productivity, processing 15 or more estimates per day versus four to five estimates in a pre-AI, field inspection world. Once the estimate is written, information gleaned from the photographs is fused with insights gleaned from CCC’s wealth of estimating experience to determine if the estimate is in line with insurer guidelines. The appraiser views the pictures and, applying AI, builds out the estimate with interactive prompts to improve it.

Thanks to AI, the policyholder is given an estimate in significantly less time than is possible today. AI also fuels communication that is more transparent and consistent with consumer expectations. When a vehicle is repairable, the policyholder doesn’t need to wait impatiently for days while the claims and repair process slowly unfolds in ways they don’t know about or understand. Instead, a consumer has access to a host of chatbot and SMS technology, where messages communicate the necessary steps to resolve the claim. Similar to how we book a restaurant reservation, the policyholder can schedule a repair shop appointment; and like an airline that can notify us of flight status, repair status updates have become standard practice for shops.

Through the use of AI, services can be dispatched and intelligently routed to the repair shop of choice—or the salvage yard in the case of a total loss, saving time and money on additional tows and storage fees. From the policyholders’ perspective, the insurer continues to prove that it has their best interests at heart, building trust and loyalty at a pivotal time in the relationship.

In other words, an experience is built around AI, putting it to work to benefit the consumer. And, the same thing is happening for the estimator.

On the casualty side, insurers handling first- and third-party claims can leverage AI to help inform investigations and increase loss cost management accuracy. For example, AI can detect the principal direction of force and the delta V to predict the likely physical injuries and outcomes of the vehicle’s occupants. There are early indications that integrating this data for analytics and intelligence purposes can improve claims outcomes, both by qualifying injury causation and revealing whether certain injuries are consistent with the facts of the accident.

See also: Why AI-Assisted Selling Is the Future  

AI Next

What I’ve just described is the tip of the iceberg. We are at the tipping point. Connected cars will drive another wave of claims innovation. According to IHS Markit, worldwide sales of connected cars will reach 72.5 million units in 2023, up from 24 million units in 2015. That means, in just over eight years, almost 69% of passenger vehicles sold will be exchanging data with external sources.

What does that mean for us?

If I’m looking into my crystal ball, here’s what I see:

When there’s an accident, the amount of instantaneous information available to us will probably be 10 times what it is today. We won’t need policyholders to take the photographs I mentioned earlier. With telematics data, we will have all of the information that is knowable about an accident event, which makes the AI even faster and more accurate and claims management and related outcomes even that much better.

If the car isn’t that safe, it will be picked up by a self-driving tow truck and taken to the shop while another self-driving car will come pick up the policyholder. By the way, at the shop, no one’s going to have to order any parts; the parts will be ordered within minutes, maybe even seconds after the accident.

From an internal and external perspective, there is no downside to embracing AI’s promise: reduced claims costs, increased customer satisfaction and improved business outcomes – today and into the future. The value is there; the time is now.

How to Prepare for Self-Driving Cars

For decades, privately owned, privately insured cars have been so common that few people have questioned these models of transportation and the associated risk.

Property and casualty insurers deal with thousands of individual vehicle owners and drivers as a result. Insurers deal with those drivers’ mistakes, too. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that human error plays a role in 94% of all car accidents.

The entire auto insurance industry is built on this humans-and-their-errors model. But autonomous vehicles stand to turn the entire model on its head — in more ways than one.

Here are some of the biggest changes self-driving cars are poised to make to the auto insurance world and how P&C insurers can prepare for the shift.

Vehicle Ownership

Most conversations about self-driving cars and insurance focus on questions of fault, compensation and risk.

In a 2017 article for the Harvard Business Review, however, Accenture’s John Cusano and Michael Costonis posited that an even bigger disruption to P&C insurance practices would be a change in patterns of vehicle ownership.

“We believe that most fully autonomous vehicles will not be owned by individuals, but by auto manufacturers such as General Motors, by technology companies such as Google and Apple and by other service providers such as ride-sharing services,” Cusano and Costonis writes.

Indeed, companies like GM and Volvo are already exploring partnership with services like Lyft and Uber, as keeping self-driving vehicles on the road as much as possible amortizes their costs more effectively.

Paralleling the autonomous vehicle/ride-sharing partnership trend is a decrease in vehicle ownership. Young adults and teens are less interested in owning vehicles than their elders were, Norihiko Shirouzu reports for Reuters. Instead, they’re moving to more walkable areas or using ride-sharing services more often, already putting pressure on auto insurance premiums.

See also: Time to Put Self-Driving Cars in Slow Lane?  

U.S. roads are likely to be occupied by a combination of human-driven and self-driven vehicles for several decades, Cusano and Costonis estimate. As ownership trends change, however, P&C insurers’ focus on everything from evaluating risk to branding and outreach will change, as well.

Connected closely to the question of ownership is a second question: Who is at fault in a crash?

Fault Ownership

NHTSA’s statistics on human error as a crash factor imply that reducing the number of human drivers behind the wheel would reduce accidents. A McKinsey & Co. report agrees, estimating that autonomous vehicles could reduce accidents by 90%.

Taking human drivers’ mistakes out of the equation means taking human fault out of the equation, too. But questions of human fault stand to be replaced by even more complex questions regarding ownership, security and product liability.

Several automakers have already begun experimenting with approaches that upend traditional questions of fault and liability. Concerned over the patchwork of federal and state regulations in the U.S., Volvo President and CEO Håkan Samuelsson announced in 2015 that the company would assume fault if one of its vehicles caused an accident in self-driving mode.

The statement appears to apply to Volvo’s vehicles during the development and testing phases, according to Cadie Thompson at Tech Insider. It is too early to tell whether the company will extend its acceptance of fault to autonomous Volvo vehicles that function as full-fledged members of the transportation ecosystem. Nonetheless, the precedent of automakers accepting liability has been set — and, as automakers continue to explore partnerships or other models of fleet ownership, accepting liability or even providing their own insurance may become part of automakers’ arsenal, as well.

Ultimately, Volvo seems unconcerned about major liability shifts. “If you look at product liability today, there is always a process determining who is liable and if there is shared liability,” Volvo’s director of government affairs, Anders Eugensson, told Business Insider. “The self-driving cars will need to have data recorders which will give all the information needed to determine the circumstances around a crash. This will then be up to the courts to evaluate this and decide on the liabilities.”

Meanwhile, in Asia, Tesla is trying another method: including the cost of insurance coverage in the price of its self-driving vehicles, according to Danielle Muoio at Business Insider.

“It takes into account not only the Autopilot safety features but also the maintenance cost of the car,” says Jon McNeill, Tesla’s former president of sales and services (now COO of Lyft). “It’s our vision in the future we could offer a single price for the car, maintenance and insurance.”

Doing so would allow Tesla to take into account the reduced accident risk of the autonomous system and to lower insurance premium prices accordingly. This might reduce the actual cost of the vehicle over its useful life.

The NHTSA has already found that accident risk in Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot are 40% lower than in vehicles without, and the company believes insurance coverage should reflect that, according to Muoio.

If P&C insurers don’t adjust their rates accordingly, Tesla is prepared to do so itself.

Future Ownership

Property and casualty insurers seem torn on how self-driving cars will affect their bottom line.

On the one hand, “insurers like Cincinnati Financial and Mercury General have already noted in SEC filings that driverless cars have the potential to threaten their business models,” Muoio reports.

On the other, 84% don’t see a “significant impact” happening until the next decade, according to Greg Gardner at the Detroit Free Press.

Other analysts, however, believe the insurance industry is moving too slowly in response to autonomous vehicles.

“The disruption of autonomous vehicles to the automotive ecosystem will be profound, and the change will happen faster than most in the insurance industry think,” KPMG actuarial and insurance risk practice leader Jerry Albright tells Gardner. “To remain relevant in the future, insurers must evaluate their exposure and make necessary adjustments to their business models, corporate strategy and operations.”

KPMG CIO advisory group managing director Alex Bell agrees. “The share of the personal auto insurance sector will likely continue to shrink as the potential liability of the software developer and manufacturer increases,” Bell tells Gardner. “At the same time, losses covered by product liability policies are likely to increase, given that the sophisticated technology that underpins autonomous vehicles will also need to be insured.”

See also: The Unsettling Issue for Self-Driving Cars  

Major areas of concern in recent years will likely include product liability, infrastructure insurance and cybersecurity.

Meanwhile, the number of privately owned vehicles — and individually insured drivers — on the road will likely continue to drop, placing further pressure on auto insurance premiums.

What should P&C insurers to do prepare? Cusano and Costonis recommend the following steps:

  • Understand and use big data and analytics. As Eugensson at Volvo notes, autonomous vehicles will generate astounding quantities of data — data that can be used to pinpoint fault. It can also be used to process claims more quickly and efficiently, if insurers are prepared to use it. Building robust data analysis systems now prepares P&C insurers to add value by analyzing this data.
  • Develop actuarial frameworks and models for self-driving vehicles. As Tesla’s insurance experiment and NHTSA data indicates, questions of risk and cost for autonomous cars will differ in key ways. P&C insurers that invest the effort into developing and using more sophisticated actuarial tools are best-prepared to answer these questions effectively.
  • Seek partnerships. The GM/Lyft and Volvo/Uber ventures demonstrate how partnerships will change the automotive landscape in the coming years. Insurers that identify and pursue partnership opportunities can improve their position in this changing landscape by doing so.
  • Rethink auto insurance. Currently, P&C insurers’ auto work involves insuring large numbers of very small risks. As our relationship to vehicles changes, however, insurers will need to change their approach, as well — for instance, by moving to a commercial approach that trades many small risks for a few large ones.

Autonomous vehicles are poised to become one of the most profound technological changes in an era of constant change. Fortunately, the technology to manage this change is already available for insurers that are willing to embrace a digital future.

Time to Put Self-Driving Cars in Slow Lane?

A self-driving Uber car fatally crashed into a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., last month, tragically illustrating the fears that some of us have long held about the dangers of these technologies. The woman appeared from a darkened area onto a road, and the police said the accident would have been hard to avoid even with a human driver behind the wheel. Yet this is not the way it was supposed to be: Autonomous cars were supposed to be better than humans in exactly such situations.

The lidar, radar and cameras that self-driving cars employ are designed to have advanced vision, and their computers have the ability to make instantaneous decisions. Yet the crash suggests that the technology may not be ready for prime time. The race among technology companies to be the first to put these cars on the road is having fatal consequences.

Uber’s self-driving vehicle system appeared to have several flaws, according to my colleague Raj Rajkumar, who heads Carnegie Mellon University’s self-driving laboratory. As he explained in an email, “What we saw on the video indicates several trouble spots with the Uber approach, design and software capabilities. There is a serious mismatch between its sensor configuration and actual usage contexts. For example, even though Uber’s self-driving vehicle has multiple cameras, their usefulness at nighttime is extremely limited at best and add no value during those dark hours when they do operate the vehicles.”

See also: The Unsettling Issue for Self-Driving Cars  

Rajkumar also didn’t let the operator off the hook. “The operator’s role is to act as the safety backup — when the technology fails, (s)he is required to step in. The operator in this case was distracted for a shockingly long duration of time, which culminated in the death of the pedestrian,” he wrote.

The reality is that self-driving cars are far from being able to coexist with humans on local roads. Both sides are learning. It is one thing for a human to put the car into autopilot on a highway and another to navigate city streets onto which adults, children and animals may suddenly wander. Autonomous cars need to be relegated to special tracks and highways for at least two or three more years, until they can deal with such contingencies.

To be clear, I am not an opponent of the technology. I own a Tesla Model S and am comfortable with letting the car take control of the wheel on highways — despite the fatal Tesla crash that occurred in 2016. But using autopilot on local roads is as dangerous as using cruise control on local roads: You just shouldn’t do it.

Toyota did the wise thing by halting testing of its autonomous cars on local roads. All other makers of autonomous cars need to do the same. Or governments may need to call the race off by declaring a moratorium until the vehicles to be road-tested demonstrate certain minimum capabilities.

See also: The Evolution in Self-Driving Vehicles  

Self-driving cars may bring profound improvements in our lives and slash accident and fatality rates, saving millions of lives. They could reduce the need for ownership, because we would be able to share them, and they could deliver incontrovertible social benefits, offering the disabled on-demand personal drivers. People living in the country could finally gain access to transportation services that put them nearly on par with their city cousins. Crossing or walking next to roads may cease to be a high-risk activity.

And, eventually, these autonomous systems could replace humans at the steering wheel, just as horseless carriages replaced the horses. But injudiciously rushing into autonomous driving will lead to unnecessary accidents, justifying calls to outlaw it and halting progress of the technology. It is better to proceed cautiously with it and ensure that the rewards outweigh the risks.