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The Boston Globe

Business

Will driverless cars be cheaper to insure?

Liberty Mutual Chief Executive David Long.

Liberty Mutual

Liberty Mutual Chief Executive David Long.

What happens when the flawed human driver — the texter, the tailgater, the dreamer — no longer has control of the wheel?

In the auto insurance industry, it is cause for concern.

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Driverless car technology, now in development at Google and other companies, could mean that people will need much less insurance to operate vehicles, David Long, Liberty Mutual’s chief executive, told business leaders at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Wednesday. Self-driving cars are reported to reduce accidents due to human error, which accounts for 90 percent of crashes, according to studies.

“They’re coming, and it will have a significant impact,” Long said. “Thank God in a shrinking market, we don’t just insure cars, we insure property.”

Google announced last month that it plans to manufacture a fleet of 100 cars without steering wheels and brakes and start testing them across the company’s California campus, and eventually on the open road. The car could be called with a smartphone application and would pick up passengers and then drive them to an assigned destination.

Other car companies are also testing self-driving technology. These cars would initially be too expensive to appeal to the mass market, but Long said he expects prices to eventually drop and more consumers will accept the technology.

Studies indicate that more than 60 percent of consumers trust the driverless technology, Long said. He does not count himself among that group, still preferring to use a steering wheel and drive a car.

“I know I’m a 1 percenter,” said Long, referring to his earnings, which last year approached $11 million last year. “I’m [also] a 40 percenter.”

Liberty Mutual is the third largest property and casualty insurer in the country. With 50,000 employees and $39 billion in revenue, Liberty Mutual is the largest company in Massachusetts.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.

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