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New auto safety technology leaves insurers in the dark

RUCKERSVILLE: Automakers are accelerating the rollout of technology designed to avoid crashes, but insurance companies are waving a caution flag at consumers eyeing discounts for buying collision-avoiding brakes or automated cruise control.

The global market for advanced driver assistance systems, known in the industry as ADAS, is expected to reach more than $67 billion by 2025, growing more than 10 percent each year. A group of 20 carmakers has pledged to outfit almost every new vehicle with forward collision warning and city-speed automatic emergency braking by 2020.

Government mandates to install technology such as collision avoiding automatic brake systems are driving the market, as is the promise of profits for these higher-margin vehicles.

“Anybody that has been in a car with advanced safety solutions is not going to go back,” Kevin Clark, chief executive of auto technology supplier Aptiv PLC told Reuters. The cost for advanced safety systems – automatic braking, lane keeping and automated cruise control – can be relatively low to the automaker, between $500 to $1,000 per vehicle, Clark said.

“The (manufacturer) can price for it and consumers will pay for it,” he said.

Aptiv expects to book more than $4 billion in new ADAS business this year. “We have gone from five customers just a few years ago to I think we’ll have north of 20 in a couple of years from now,” Clark said.

The insurance industry’s perspective is different.

Personal auto insurance, while traditionally a low-margin business, provides the largest amount of liquidity to insurers, generating more than $244 billion in 2018 direct premiums in the United States alone, data by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners showed. Motor insurance is also seen as a way for insurance companies to cross-sell other, more lucrative products to customers.

According to Swiss Re AG, the world’s largest auto reinsurer, and mapping company HERE, ADAS has the potential to reduce motor accident frequencies by up to 25%, cutting global insurance premiums for fully ADAS-equipped cars by $20 billion by 2020.

But U.S. insurers said they currently do not have sufficient data to validate auto industry promises of safety benefits from automated driving systems.

They cite car manufacturers’ reluctance to provide detailed information on models sold with those features, a lack of consistent standards, drivers’ unpredictable use of the systems and higher repair costs.

“We’re not going to go against the data and create any type of false discounts for the purposes of marketing at this point. We just want to make sure the rate is reflective of the risk that it brings,” said Steve Armstrong, a vice president of Allstate Corp’s pricing department, one of America’s largest insurers.

Shantelle Thomas, also a vice president at Allstate’s pricing department, said insurance rates will reflect benefits and costs of modern auto technology in the next five years, but will not necessarily be presented as discounts.

The sentiment was echoed by other insurance providers.

“We’re stuck in a murky in-between,” said Jennifer St. John, national auto claims leader at Westfield Insurance. “ADAS have shown to provide real world benefits, but there really isn’t a great deal of commonality in terms of what’s out there.”

Insurers pointed to higher repair costs as a risk. Sensors and cameras central to automatic driving systems are mostly installed in a car’s bumper or windshield. Research by AAA has shown repair costs for even minor collisions can double if such sensors are damaged.

“There’s no such thing as a $300 bumper anymore. It’s closer to $1,500 in repair costs nowadays,” said Richard Lavey, executive vice president at The Hanover Insurance Group.

State Farm in a statement said it did not offer discounts specific to advanced driver assistance systems and that future rates would be shaped by a variety of factors, including safety, regulation, underwriting, liability and repair costs.

GEICO did not respond to requests for comment.

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