Why You Need to Know All 6 Vehicle Autonomy Levels

The race is on to create the best driverless car, but not many people know there are varying degrees of vehicle autonomy. While most think of autonomous vehicles as futuristic and 100% hands-free, the reality is a little different. It is important to note that an autonomy level does not describe the vehicle but the system. For example, a driving system rated at level 5 could be inside a vehicle with a steering wheel or without one. In short, this means the individual cannot always discern a vehicle’s autonomy level just by looking at it.

Autonomy Levels Explained

There are six levels to define a vehicle’s relative autonomy, ranging from 0 to 5.

Level 0: Non-Automated

As the name implies, there is no automation to level 0 vehicles. A human driver controls all aspects of the vehicle including steering, braking, accelerating, and navigating traffic.

Level 1: Driver Assistance

A level 1 automated car can perform one of two automated functions, but not at the same time: steering or adjusting vehicle speed. The driver must also re-engage should the automated system not react as expected. Otherwise, the driver is responsible for all other functions in the vehicle. The most common example of this is adaptive cruise control.

Level 2: Partial Automation

Vehicles with a level 2 driving system can perform both steering and speed adjustment. Such vehicles are able to center themselves in traffic lanes and adjust their speed as necessary. Unlike level 1 vehicles, drivers operating a level 2 system can have their hands and feet off the wheel and pedals at the same time. However, the driver must remain alert and ready to retake control of the vehicle.

Level 3: Conditional Automation

Level 3 driving systems mark the beginning of what the average driver considers an autonomous vehicle. In most conditions, vehicles with level 3 automation can manage almost all driving functions, including monitoring its surroundings. However, it cannot navigate every situation, and the system will alert the driver when he or she needs to take over to handle it. It is for this reason that drivers of level 3 autonomous vehicles must remain alert at all times. Otherwise, they will not have enough time to react should the vehicle require them to take back control.

Level 4: High Automation

This is the first level of automation that does not require a human to be on standby. However, such vehicles can only operate under specific conditions. For example, a level 4 vehicle will require a driver to operate it on unmapped roads or in extreme weather. Otherwise, it can perform all functions when on a highway in decent weather.

Level 5: Full Automation

In theory, a level 5 system could operate a vehicle on any road and under any conditions that a human could. The only step the passenger would need to perform would be to key in a final destination.

Drivers need to understand the difference in automation to be aware of how involved they should be. The jump from level 3 to level 4 is significant, but not all drivers realize this. A level 3 vehicle can lull drivers into a false sense of security. Drivers may let their mind wander and fail to remain alert enough to react if/when the vehicle alerts them to a condition it cannot perform. To stay up to date with the latest vehicular technological advancements, contact the experts at The Reilly Company.

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