A Guide to Being a Passenger in Your Own Car

The year is 2021 and the era of cars driving themselves down the road seems to be just around the corner.  

The Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) has defined six different levels of driving automation from 0-5 in its J3016 standard which serves as the industry’s most-cited reference for automated-vehicle (AV) capabilities. SAE acknowledges that the document is “alive” as we continue venturing into unchartered territory.

SAE Level 0 – No Automation.  Essentially cars as they have been for the last century.  Driver is in full control of throttle, brakes, and steering.  Certain active safety features (blind spot/lane departure warnings, automatic braking) are included in this category.

SAE Level 1 – Driver Assistance.  Vehicles in this category will include those which either steer OR accelerate/brake.  New vehicles featuring just adaptive cruise control or lane keeping are Level 1 autonomous, and driver attention at all times is required.

SAE Level 2 – Partial Automation.  Vehicles in this category will include those which steer AND accelerate/brake.  New vehicles featuring adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping are Level 2 autonomous, and driver attention at all times is required.

SAE Level 3 – Conditional Automation.  This is the first level that the automobile is in full control and not requiring driver attention IN SOME SITUATIONS.  As it monitors the road and environment, it can determine that other situations require driver input and delegate responsibility back to the driver.  It should be noted that this is considered the last level that, in theory, should require a steering wheel and pedals.

SAE Level 4 – High Automation.  While the current automobile industry has not yet approved this or higher levels for public road use, Level 4 seems to be intended for minimal human participation in the journey.  It is projected that this level will be popular among ridesharing because it will be geofence capable and may or may not have steering/throttle/brake controls.

SAE Level 5 – Full Automation.  There are no conditions under which the vehicle can’t drive itself, whether occupied or not.  As the most advanced level of automation, this vehicle will have the capability to take itself and any number of passengers anywhere at any time.

As the world inches closer to full automation, we are bound to see an increase in safety and efficiency.  Considering the current direction toward electric propulsion, we are guaranteed to see changes in the business scenery as well, from ridesharing to executive travel and even the everyday commute home.  What a time to be alive!

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