Learning the Lingo Around Autonomous Cars Back »

Written by Bethany Stoutamire (Former SDSU Extension Aging in Place Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA Member) under the direction and review of Leacey E. Brown.


As autonomous cars became closer to hitting the market (which will be approximately 2021), chances are we’ll here more cars described as “Level 3” or “Level 4” automation. So, what exactly does this mean? To define driving automation, the US Department of Transportation currently uses the six levels of automation guidelines that were developed by SAE International, a global scientific and engineering organization. The SAE levels begin at level 0, with no automation and ends at level 5, which has complete automation. Below is a list of the different levels.

Automation Levels

  • Level 0 - No Automation
    The driver controls every aspect of the trip.
  • Level 1 - Driver Assistance
    The human driver is responsible for monitoring the environment and driving, however, the driver may receive some assistance from the automatic system in steering, acceleration, or deceleration. A car with adaptive cruise control falls under the Level 1 category.
  • Level 2 - Partial Automation
    The automatic system can control the steering and acceleration, however the human driver is expected to monitor the driving environment at all times and be the fallback driver if need be.
  • Level 3 - Conditional Driving
    The automatic system can control both the steering, acceleration, and deceleration and can monitor the driving conditions. However, a human driver may still be expected to take over and drive in certain conditions.
  • Level 4 - High Automation
    The automatic system is responsible for the execution of the steering, acceleration, monitoring of the environment, and the driving task itself. However, depending on weather and other unusual conditions, a human driver may occasionally have to take over.
  • Level 5 - Full Automation
    The automatic system is responsible and capable of the complete task of driving the car regardless of conditions.

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