Q: With the imminent arrival of self-driving motor vehicles, who will be liable for crashes when they occur? More to the point, why should I, despite being the owner of the vehicle, still be required to provide insurance, when I am a passenger, not the driver? Even if my role is "emergency backup" or "co-pilot" will I be liable for the car's actions or failures? I certainly would like the option of purchasing insurance for myself/family/friends, as passenger(s), but am opposed to the idea of being required to purchase liability insurance. Even now, as more of the responsibilities for safety are being assumed by the vehicle's onboard systems, why haven't insurance premiums seen a more significant drop? What sort of consideration is being given to this situation by the automotive and insurance industries, and our elected leaders?
— M.S., Baldwinsville, N.Y.
A: The Insurance Information Institute states: "Except that the number of crashes will be greatly reduced, the insurance aspects of this gradual transformation are at present unclear. However, as crash avoidance technology gradually becomes standard equipment, insurers will be able to better determine the extent to which these various components reduce the frequency and cost of accidents. They will also be able to determine whether the accidents that do occur lead to a higher percentage of product liability claims, as claimants blame the manufacturer or suppliers for what went wrong rather than their own behavior. Liability laws might evolve to ensure autonomous vehicle technology advances are not brought to a halt. ...
"A study of the benefits of self-driving vehicles by the RAND Corporation, released in 2016, includes a discussion of liability insurance options. The study, 'Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policymakers,' explores the benefits, drawbacks and risks of autonomous vehicle use. According to the study, manufacturer liability is likely to increase, while personal liability is likely to decrease. ...
"As cars are become increasingly automated the onus might be on the manufacturer to prove it was not responsible for what happened in the event of a crash. The liability issue may evolve so that lawsuit concerns do not drive manufacturers and their suppliers out of business.
"RAND has suggested some kind of no-fault auto insurance system."
We do not have a clue what our elected leaders are up to. Insurance is a state-level, not national, issue so it is difficult to grasp this conundrum.
Q: My Honda dealer has told me that the cover on my catalytic converter is rusting on my 2009 Honda CRV and I need to replace it at the cost of $200. Could this be a factor in my vehicle passing emission testing? Should I get it replaced?
— C.G., Joliet
A: The cover you mention is a heat shield. It helps keep combustible materials from contacting the hot catalytic converter. The car will run fine with a damaged or missing shield, and it has no effect on the emissions test. As long as your check engine light is not illuminated, your vehicle will most likely pass. Yes, you should get it replaced before it starts rattling and driving you nuts.
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