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Levels of Self-Driving Systems

Not all self-driving technology is the same. SAE International, a group of automotive experts from around the world, has developed a 5-level scale to help people distinguish the different systems. This scale has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

There is a range of autonomous systems. You might already be familiar with driver assist technology sold in cars today such as adaptive cruise-control or lane-keeping systems, which require constant monitoring by a human driver.

A fully self-driving system is designed to operate without a human driver. Fully self-driving technology includes the software and hardware that, when integrated into the vehicle, can perform all driving functions.

Driver Support: Levels 0, 1, and 2

What Does the Human in the Driver’s Seat Have to Do?

  • You are fully responsible for driving, even if there are driver support features engaged such as “adaptive cruise control” or “lane control.”
  • You must constantly supervise any support features; you must steer, brake, or accelerate as needed to maintain safety.

What Do These Driver Support Features Do?

At Level 0, features are limited to warnings and momentary assistance: blind spot warnings and lane departure warnings.

At Level 1, features provide steering OR brake/acceleration support to the driver: lane centering or adaptive cruise control.

At Level 2, features provide steering AND brake/acceleration support: lane centering and adaptive cruise control working together.

Automated Driving: Levels 3, 4, and 5

What Does the Human in the Driver’s Seat Have to Do?

  • You are not driving, even if you are in “the driver’s seat.”
  • At Level 3, when the vehicle requests, you must drive.
  • At Levels 4 and 5, these fully self-driving vehicles will not require you to take over driving.

What Do These Cars Do?

At Level 3, these vehicles can self-drive under limited conditions and will not operate unless all required conditions are met. You may sometimes be prompted to drive.

At Level 4, like Level 3, these vehicles can self-drive under limited conditions and will not operate unless all required conditions are met. Level 4 vehicles are considered fully self-driving.

At Level 5, these vehicles can self-drive under all conditions. Same as Level 4, but the vehicle can drive anywhere under all conditions.