Levels of Autonomous Driving, Explained
As self-driving vehicles move from science fiction to reality, automakers are poised to make critical advancements in this area over the next decade. However, as countless videos of sleeping and otherwise distracted Tesla drivers proves, consumers are confused about what constitutes self-driving vehicle technology and what does not.
To set agreed-upon standards early in the transition to autonomous vehicles, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) developed a classification system that defines the degree of driving automation a car and its equipment may offer. Ranging from levels zero to five, the driving automation spectrum begins with vehicles without this technology and ends with entirely self-driving vehicles.
If a vehicle has Level 0, Level 1, or Level 2 driver support systems, an active and engaged driver is required. She is always responsible for the vehicle’s operation, must supervise the technology at all times, and must take complete control of the vehicle when necessary.
In the future, if a vehicle has Level 3, Level 4, or Level 5 automated driving systems, the technology takes complete control of the driving without human supervision. However, with Level 3, if the vehicle alerts the driver and requests she takes control of the vehicle, she must be prepared and able to do so.
It is worth repeating and emphasizing the following: As of May 2021, no vehicles sold in the U.S. market have a Level 3, Level 4, or Level 5 automated driving system. All of them require an alert driver sitting in the driver’s seat, ready to take control at any time. If you believe otherwise, you are mistaken, and it could cost you your life, the life of someone you love, or the life of an innocent bystander.