The debate on the timeline of fully autonomous vehicles traveling on US highways rages on, with the optimists in the industry predicting initial applications to begin as early as 2019 and the skeptics questioning whether 2035 is a realistic launch date.

Experts agree that self-driving cars present the auto insurance industry with major challenges, but also with significant near-term opportunities.

The greatest potential of automated vehicles in the short term will derive from the vast amounts of data they create. Autonomous-vehicle manufacturers, software companies and insurers will all be interested in analyzing this data not only to improve existing products, but also to develop new value-added services. In addition, billions of dollars in premium revenue will be available to those carriers that are first to launch insurance services for this new risk category.

Five levels of autonomous vehicle progression

The race for self-driving cars has been accelerating significantly in the last two years with more pilot programs popping up across the globe and more auto manufacturers and technology companies getting into the field.

While most experts agree wide consumer adoption is still years away, from a technology perspective the launch date for fully automated self-driving cars could be as early as 2019 in initial applications such as public transit or ride-hailing services.

How fast these autonomous vehicles will get to the point of widespread adoption will be impacted by a number of factors in addition to technology. These include regulation and legislation, the security of the data these cars need to operate, the ecosystem of supporting industries, including insurance, and of course consumer attitudes and ethics.

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