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What are the Levels of Automation for Autonomous Vehicles?

By Butler Prather LLP on November 8, 2021

The world’s tech is changing rapidly, and this is perhaps most clear when it comes to vehicle automation. Over the last two decades, the rapidly changing technological advancements have allowed for various levels of vehicle automation to occur. Most newer vehicles on the roadway today have some form of automation features, and self-driving vehicles are being tested all over the country. Here, we want to discuss the levels of automation for autonomous vehicles as well as what drivers can expect on the roadway concerning these vehicles right now.

Autonomous Vehicles

Level 0 (No Automation)

This is the most basic level and includes vehicles with no automation at all. Most older vehicles on the roadway today are at Level 0 automation. Typically, a vehicle at Level 0 automation means that the driver provides every aspect of input for the vehicle, including handling every task behind the wheel.

Level 1 (Driver Assistance)

At Level 1 automation, this means that the vehicle typically has a single automated system in place to help the driver. This can include assisted steering or acceleration control (cruise control). Sometimes, vehicles at this level of automation will have adaptive cruise control that can maintain safe distances behind other cars on the roadway.

Level 2 (Partial Driving Automation)

At the “partial driving automation” level, this means that there will be some advanced driver assistance features in place. Typically, we will find that the vehicle can control the steering as well as the vehicle’s acceleration and deceleration.

This will still not be considered a self-driving car because the individual sitting in the driver’s seat has the ability to take control of the vehicle at any time. Level 2 automation is currently the highest level of automation sold in vehicles across the US at this time. However, technologies beyond this point are in development and moving forward at a rapid rate.

Level 3 (Conditional Driving Automation)

At this level of automation, this would mean that the vehicle in question has various environmental detection capabilities that allow the system to make informed decisions for itself, similar to artificial intelligence. Some of these decisions would include the ability to move past slower vehicles on the roadway or make lane changes without driver input. Typically, this level of automation still requires human override capabilities, meaning there should be a driver in the driver’s seat ready to take over.

Level 4 (High Driving Automation)

At Level 4 Automation, we see that the vehicle will have the ability to intervene if something goes wrong on the roadway or if there is a system failure. Typically, the “high driving automation” level will require no human interaction at all when it comes to driving. However, individuals would still have the ability to override the controls and take control of the vehicle manually.

Level 5 (Full Driving Automation)

At a Level 5 automation, this would mean that there is no human input at all when it comes to driving. A fully automated vehicle would not have a steering wheel or acceleration or braking systems inside the passenger compartment.

How Will This Affect Driving Behavior and Safety?

Level 2 vehicles are the highest level of automation across this country right now. However, we will inevitably move towards higher levels of automation, and this could mean major changes for how we as a society handle the roadway. There will likely be comprehensive legislation passed over the next two decades related to autonomous vehicles. Ultimately, autonomous vehicles could eliminate the need for human drivers at all.

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