Self-driving cars have been in the news for some time now. Waymo, Google’s self-drive vehicle has been in test for years and the new Tesla Model 3 will have driverless functionality as standard. Now though we are starting to see companies talk to driverless delivery vehicles. Uber have bought Otto to develop a fleet of driverless trucks and Dominos are carrying out tests in the US to see how customers react to having their food delivered by a driverless delivery van. Will this technology catch on? Is it a good think thing? for customers? Are we looking at the end of courier drivers as we know it? And who will pay the courier insurance or van insurance? In this latest blog from Coversure Redditch, the courier insurance specialists, we’ll look at all the pros and (significant) cons of this technology in more detail.
Driverless Couriers: The Pros
- Courier Insurance Costs – as 90% of all accidents have human error as a contributing factor, having driverless delivery vans would, in theory at least, lead to a significant reduction in courier insurance quotes. Computerised delivery vans would drive safely, be completely trackable and controllable and would be far cheaper to insure – especially given the fact that they will almost certainly be electric vans and therefore cheaper to repair
- Reduced Delivery Costs – as well as a reduction in courier insurance costs, this type of vehicle would be cheaper to run as you wouldn’t have to pay a driver, they would be able to work longer hours and you wouldn’t have to pay sickness benefit, holiday pay, National Insurance or all those other pesky things that human drivers need
- Reduction in losses of goods – as driverless vans would (in theory) cut the number of accidents, there would be a reduction in the amount of goods that were lost or damaged in transit. This would reduce the need for and the cost of goods in transit insurance and would boost customer satisfaction and retention levels – something of a holy grail in the delivery business
- Greater Efficiency – driverless vehicles wouldn’t need sick days and they wouldn’t be able to strike. They would also eliminate the risk of losing a good driver by them being poached by another courier company or by them setting up on their own as the vehicles would all be the same with the same level of performance. It would also make competition between providers easier to manage as the service offering would be the same
So, it’s all good, driverless deliveries are a great idea and we should all start planning for a bright, computer-controlled future, right? Well not quite. There are one or two downsides…
Driverless Couriers: The Cons
- Jobs – tens of thousands of people in the UK work as van or courier drivers – a number that rises significantly when you take into account lifestyle couriers. Driverless vehicles would make these hardworking people redundant at a stroke; damaging the UK economy and leaving British commerce at the mercy of computer systems
- Courier Insurance – while the costs of courier cover maybe cheaper in theory there is one question that has yet to be resolved, and it’s a big one: who pays for the insurance? With a normal courier vehicle, it’s simple: the driver has the correct level of courier insurance to keep them within the confines of the law. With driverless vehicles, there’s already a debate ranging as to whether the cover should be taken out by the owner or the van’s manufacturer? After all the owner is reliant on the driver that the manufacturer has installed. Understandably the manufacturers don’t want to be left liable so this could mean a very sticky (not to mention costly) problem down the line
- Customer acceptance – while customers may like the idea of cheaper and more flexible deliveries, are they going to want a fleet of driverless vans going up and down their street? And what if the goods arrive damaged or are incorrect? Are they going be able to refuse them? And what if they are out when delivery is attempted? How are they going to leave a card? And what if the goods are heavy or awkward? How is the customer to get the goods inside? Are the elderly or the infirm going to have to abandon much-needed delivered goods as they can’t get them through their doors? Being a courier is all about service and these vehicles would slash that vital element
- Safety – we’ve said driverless vehicles are safer in theory, but are they? Google’s Waymo and Tesla’s driverless cars have both had accidents in the past and who’s to say there won’t be more? Humans maybe fallible, but they aren’t prone to complete system failures or to running out of electricity. And how does a computer make a moral decision in the event of an accident? How can a computer programme decide between hitting another car or a pedestrian?
- Cyber attack – these vehicles are driven by software and if there’s one thing we have learned over the last few years it’s that any computer system- no matter how secure – can be hacked. The prospect of a terrorist organisation taking over a fleet of delivery vans for its own vile ends are too hideous to imagine. At a more mundane level it would leave courier companies at risk of having vehicles and goods in transit stolen
- Theft – with no driver to physically stop thieves from stealing goods, what’s to stop theft of goods from these vehicles?
Driverless Couriers: Coming Soon?
A lot of delivery companies will be watching the Domino’s test carefully to see what the general reaction of the public is. Food deliveries are obviously easier to do autonomously as the door-to-door element is less important and the goods can be passed via an automated serving hatch. If the test fails – for whatever reason – it may well increase the public’s sense of unease, make them realise how much they value couriers and we may see a slowdown in attempts to automate the courier industry. If it succeeds then others may try and replicate the model, but it is hard to see such tests announcing the death of the courier industry. Since man invented the wheel, people have been paid to move goods from one place to another and it seems unlikely that, that will change any time soon.
Would Like To Know More?
Are you interested to know more about how driverless vehicles could impact the courier market? We have more articles on the ever-changing courier industry, including ‘Driverless Couriers: Future or Fantasy?’, which you can find by clicking here, and you can find all of our helpful articles and guides here.
Like Some Courier Insurance Help?
If you would like some more courier advice or would like some help getting the courier insurance cover that’s right for you, then please get in touch with the Coversure Redditch team by calling us on (01527) 757 585 or you can email us by clicking here.