Car insurance for blind drivers? Yes, it's coming - MSN Money

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Car insurance for blind drivers?

New technology could soon allow blind people to get behind the wheel. How would insurance companies figure rates for that?

By Insure.com

Technology keeps moving ahead at a blistering pace. As a result, the day you share the road with blind drivers may be getting closer.

In January, the National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech plan to unveil a prototype vehicle equipped with technology that would allow blind people to drive.

They've tricked out a Ford Escape 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.

Although 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'd figure insurance rates for blind drivers. But they expect to face the challenge someday.

Currently, most car insurers don't have 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 rate as for drivers without a hearing impairment, says Peter Moraga, a spokesman 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, a spokeswoman for Allstate. "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 valid driver's licenses, which typically require vision tests.

Car insurance for autopilot

The possibility of blind drivers is already raising 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," Moraga says. "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 autopilot 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."

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Vehicle technology also holds the promise of better car insurance rates due to improved safety and fewer accidents. Moraga speculates that autopilot 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."

This article was reported by Kat Zeman for Insure.com.

Published Aug. 2, 2010

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