Waymo Finds Insurer to Protect Its Driverless Vans

Even before self-driving cars first took to the road, a popular thought experiment circulated about how the autonomous vehicles would be insured.

Auto insurance is based largely on assigning blame to a driver in the event of an accident. Driverless cars throw a serious wrench in that model since there really isn’t a driver, at least not a human one, to assign blame to. So if a driverless car were deemed responsible for an accident, who would be liable: the owner, the manufacturer or both?

The situation is further complicated by the fact that most forecasts predict that autonomous vehicles will, at least at the outset, not be owned by individuals.

Most driverless car usage is expected to take place through ride-sharing and ride-hailing services. This creates new questions around insurance for self-driving fleets, and how passengers will be protected.

In December, Waymo took an initial step toward answering those questions when it announced that on-demand insurance provider Trov would provide insurance for Waymo’s forthcoming autonomous ride-hailing service, which will debut in the Phoenix metro area this year.

The insurer’s On-Demand Insurance platform will enable passengers of Waymo’s service to acquire protections for medical expenses, trip interruptions and lost property.

“Innovative technology needs innovative partners,” Waymo Director of Operations Shaun Stewart noted in a statement. “Trov is pioneering a cutting-edge approach to insurance that’s ideal for ride-sharing because it’s customized for every trip. As we prepare to launch a commercial service, we’re thrilled to collaborate with Trov to unlock the full potential of shared mobility.”

Trov’s unique insurance model eschews the blanket policies typically offered by insurance companies.

Instead, Trov allows customers to turn protection on or off at any time with the touch of an in-app button.

That innovative feature will extend to its Waymo arrangement. Passengers will be able to choose whether or not they want to insure, say, their laptop or cell phone for a given ride. One imagines that more fundamental medical protections won’t be optional, and will probably be baked into the price of a ride. (Being charged an extra $5 for medical insurance every time one hails a ride seems like a bad customer experience in several ways.)

Waymo first announced its autonomous pilot program in November, becoming the first company to launch an AV service for customers without a human operator in the car. Waymo’s announcement promised that participants in this early program will have access to the autonomous fleets for commutes to work, children’s rides to school or as a designated driver after a night out.

Founded in 2012, Trov immediately found a market for its revolutionary pick-and-choose insurance offerings, especially among younger consumers. Trov closed a $45 million round of Series D funding led by German reinsurance company Munich Re in April, and a Munich Re affiliate that will underwrite Trov’s Waymo coverage.

“Trov is providing new avenues for developing markets like shared mobility, and this latest partnership exemplifies how their on-demand platform can be adapted for use in a variety of applications,” Munich Re Digital Partners CEO Andy Rear wrote in a statement.

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