Technology is driving forward at a blinding pace. At some point in the future, you may be sharing the road with blind drivers. Next January, the National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech plan to unveil a prototype vehicle equipped with technology that will allow blind people to drive.
They’ve tricked out a Ford Escape SUV with “nonvisual interface technology,” which uses laser sensors that operate much like sonar, plus various transmitters, vibrating gloves and devices releasing compressed air. Together, these functions will help communicate surroundings to the driver. The prototype vehicle is designed to allow the blind to drive independently – not be driven around in it.
While the reality of blind drivers hitting the road is quite a few years away, the technological possibility hasn’t escaped the attention of the insurance industry. Many representatives of major car insurance companies decline to talk about how they’ll figure out car insurance rates for blind drivers. But they admit they’ll have to face up to the challenge some day.
Presently, most car insurers don’t have specific pricing guidelines for drivers who are visually or hearing impaired. For example, California insurers offer coverage to most drivers with auditory disabilities. If a deaf driver has a valid driver’s license, an insurance policy is offered at the same rates as those without a hearing impairment, says Peter Moraga, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Network of California. It’s possible that the same may apply to blind drivers who seek car insurance quotes in the future.“Our guidelines are based on what is current today,” says Kate Hollcraft, spokesperson for Allstate Insurance. “Both the car in development and a driver who cannot see are currently just concepts. [But] if the car goes to market and states issue licenses to drivers who are blind, I’m sure we’ll explore both factors in our guidelines.”
She notes that Allstate requires customers to have a valid driver’s license, which typically requires a vision test.
Car insurance for auto-pilot
The possibility of blind drivers is already raising new questions in the minds of insurers.
“I think it opens up a lot of basic questions as to how this technology would fit into the bigger picture,” says Moraga. “If technology exists to allow a blind person to drive, then at what point does that become standard for all drivers?”
Moraga anticipates autonomous vehicles, combining GPS technology and computers to drive us around on auto pilot one day in the future.
“You can sometimes look at the future by where we are today compared to where we’ve been,” he says. “At one point, you’re going to punch in the coordinates of where you want to go and the car will drive you there. . . . Think how far technology has advanced since the advent of the digital age. Look at what our cell phones can do today. Our computers couldn’t do that 10 years ago.”
Vehicle technology also holds the promise of better car insurance rates due to improved safety and fewer accidents. Moraga speculates that auto-pilot cars could cut down on accidents. An autonomous vehicle may also be able to choose routes that avoid traffic congestion.
“Technology forces us to explore the boundaries, and insurance, like any other financial institution, will have to adapt to that as well,” he says. “You’re not going to see an overnight change. But insurers will have to pay attention to this. If technology changes the way we drive, then we will have to change underwriting as well.”