The issue of fraud in motor claims has received a lot of press attention in recent years and there appears to be a willingness by the government to tackle the issue. However so far very little has changed and it could be that by the time legislation is enacted the problem could be well on the way to being solved by technology which is progressing at a significantly faster pace.

Fully autonomous vehicles, more commonly known as driverless cars, are set to be tested on UK motorways in 2019 and given the rate of development in the US it seems likely they could be available to the public relatively soon thereafter. For example, Ford is aiming to be mass-producing driverless cars by 2021. Some believe that this could signal the beginning of the end for motor fraud. Indeed technology is already having a significant impact in this area.

Autonomous Emergency Braking

Even fairly modestly priced cars on sale today have a number of systems designed to assist drivers and some of these may well already be reducing incidents of fraud. One that is likely to be having a particular impact is Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB). This is a system which automatically brakes the car if the driver fails to respond to an imminent collision.

The Thatcham Research institute believe that AEB is the most significant development in car safety since the invention of the seatbelt. However in addition to saving lives and preventing injury it also has the potential to thwart criminals who are attempting to deliberately induce accidents by braking unexpectedly in front of innocent motorists.

The reason such scams are successful is that the braking happens in situations where the victim is not expecting it or where they might not fully concentrating on the vehicle in front of them, such as when joining a roundabout. However AEB is always on and ready to react whatever the situation and has the potential to virtually eliminate such collisions.

It is not possible to show how many attempts at inducing accidents have been thwarted by AEB as, due to the fact no collision has occurred, it will not be reported to the insurer. However a review of a sample of suspected induced accidents where collisions had occurred revealed that none of the cars being driven by the victims were fitted with AEB which tends to support the hypothesis.

Unfortunately AEB cannot be retrofitted to vehicles and therefore it is likely to be a number of years before the majority of the vehicles on the road have it. As of 2016 less than 50% of new vehicles on sale had AEB either as standard or available as an option and as such there will be plenty of targets for fraudsters for the foreseeable future. Also it is worth bearing in mind that there are a variety of different systems across the various manufacturers. Depending on the system the AEB will only activate up to certain speeds and in defined situations and so whilst some types of induced collisions, such as on roundabouts, are likely to reduce those at higher speeds could be relatively unaffected.

Dashboard cameras

Another technological advance which is already in use and having an impact on is the dashboard camera which is more commonly known as a 'dash cam'. Initially these were mainly confined to commercial vehicles but as the costs have fallen they have become more popular with drivers of private vehicles.

In some countries dash cams have become an essential piece of kit. There are various stories online about the proliferation of these in Russia to guard against police corruption and assist in solving disputes in a country with very high levels of accidents. This was evidenced by the numerous videos of the Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013 which were captured on dash cams.

However in other countries concerns over privacy have led to the cameras being banned or their use severely restricted, such as Austria and Germany. In the UK there are no specific rules on the use of dash cams, although The AA recently called for legislation to regulate the sharing of footage online.

Current figures suggest that around 15% of motorists in the UK now use a 'dash cam' and some new vehicles have started being manufactured with integrated cameras. However for most drivers they will have purchased a separate unit to be fitted to their vehicle. Assuming the camera is switched on it is constantly recording to the hard drive and more advanced systems also keep a record or the car’s location, speed and even the force of any impact.

Footage from 'dash cams' is undoubtedly useful for insurers in liability disputes but also has a number of potential benefits in suspected fraudulent claims. In induced accidents it can provide irrefutable evidence that the claimant vehicle stopped unnecessarily and is also useful to confirm occupancy and the identity of those involved. In addition searching online brings up multiple examples of suspected failed attempts at inducing accidents. These clips can provide useful intelligence for insurers as inevitably those involved will make further attempts which will eventually be successful and the registration numbers and/or locations can be used to show patterns of behaviour.

The Future

Once fully autonomous vehicles hit our roads it is predicted that the number of accidents will fall significantly. Also when accidents do occur it should be a lot easier to establish fault based on the vast amounts of data these vehicles collect. In order for a self-driving system to work the car has to constantly collect information from multiple cameras and sensors and this data should make it much easier to establish what has occurred. Data will need to be in a standardised form that can be easily accessed and analysed by insurers in order to determine liability.

It is possible that in future, systems will be put in place whereby the relevant data is uploaded automatically to the respective insurers at the time of the accident. This data could then be analysed to establish fault and steps taken to deal with the aftermath of the accident, such as instructing recovery companies and repairers, without any human involvement.

On the face of it these systems and the data they collect will be a very useful tool in fighting fraud and will in effect consolidate and build on the technology we have today. For example the cars should be much more effective at avoiding collisions in the first place as we are starting to see with AEB. Also the cameras and sensors should be able to provide a very clear record of the circumstances leading up to the crash in the same way that dash cams have already started to do. However it is likely that the information will be significantly more detailed, particularly in relation to impact forces. In fact it is feasible that almost every aspect of a collision will now be captured including whether a particular seat was occupied and if the occupant was wearing their seatbelt.

Taking matters to their logical conclusion it is also possible that a whole new group of fraudsters will appear who know nothing about faking accidents but instead possess the skills to hack into systems and fabricate data. With the likelihood of there being increased reliance on automated systems to process claims it is theoretically possible that someone could arrange for fake data to be created and uploaded without any collision ever having occurred. If payments are then issued automatically the fraudsters could walk away without anyone being any the wiser.

Does the rise of these machines spell the end of motor fraud?

Certainly in the short term there is unlikely to be a massive impact. Whilst fully autonomous vehicles are likely to on our roads in the next 5 years, assuming manufacturers like Ford stick to their timetable on mass production, the costs of such vehicles are likely to mean that uptake will initially be slow.

In addition even when the costs fall it is likely that it will take decades before all the vehicles on the road are fully autonomous. During this period fraudsters will presumably continue to use and target older vehicles to avoid the potential of being caught. Also based on past experience fraudsters tend to be able to adapt and evolve and therefore even when driverless cars become the norm there is no guarantee fraud will be curtailed. However hopefully with a combination of technology and legislation the scourge of fraud can be greatly reduced in coming years.