Auto insurance is an interesting financial product because it is so closely tied to personal safety. It is in the best interests of both the insurance company and you, the driver, to put you in as safe a car as possible. Auto insurance rates drop when you use safer cars with better safety features. Recent innovations in car technology have generated savings for the lucky owners who own the new cars that benefit from the advances in safety. However, a new technology that is still on the horizon could affect the entire fleet of Texas and America, delivering a vast increase in safety and, therefore, cheaper auto insurance.
It’s called vehicular communications. Technology like OnStar that lets cars communicate with a central hub have been around for several years, and more recently, the capability to push a wireless signal to a car has allowed moving vehicles to maintain an Internet connection. The next step is vehicle-to-vehicle, or V2V. V2V works to overcome one of the most persistent and dangerous aspects of driving: no driver can monitor all of the cars around them all of the time. They can only look in one direction at a time, and there are always blind spots. Whether it’s navigating back roads or cruising Texas highways, traffic consists of thousands of independent drivers with only limited information about their surroundings.
The promise of V2V is that cars will be able to communicate wirelessly with one another. Unlike wireless Internet, this is not just for entertainment or GPS. Instead, the goal is to allow every car to have detailed information about all of the surrounding cars. Each car transmits its position, speed, whether or not it has its turn indicator on, and other information. That way, every car on the highway will “see” every other car. The net effect will be very similar to existing collision detection technology, but with more detail and more information delivered to the driver. Cars could even transmit information about construction zones, downed trees, and other obstacles up the line to other drivers who have yet to encounter them.
The ability to have full 360 monitoring of all surrounding cars would itself be an amazing leap forward, but there’s even more that V2V could do. For example, by integrating the car’s GPS unit to the V2V network, each car could transmit its destination to a central computer, which would use the trip data for every car on the road to create the safest and fastest routes for everyone. This would use the most accurate local traffic information possible by collecting the location of nearby cars. The next step would be to add in automation. Right now, Tesla’s high-end Model S has an Autopilot feature that can drive itself on any highway, regardless of curves or traffic. Imagine the possibilities of that kind of feature deployed to every car and combined with centrally-guided V2V. It would create an automated fleet of cars that can all drive themselves to their destination and maintain a safe distance and speed the whole time. No human input would be needed. The idea of eliminating human error from driving, even if it was only highway driving, is appealing from a safety perspective. Fatigue, intoxication, and inattention would become far less likely to lead to a crash. The corresponding drop in traffic fatalities would trigger a corresponding drop in auto insurance rates.
The potential of V2V is one of the more exciting elements of car technology. While it’s mostly conceptual at this point, the promise of reducing accidents through inter-car communication will deliver safety and cheaper auto insurance.