Self-Driving Cars and When to Level Up

Self-driving car

In the world of automotive news, the one topic that has gotten the most attention lately has been self-driving cars. It seems like every automaker is rushing to get their autonomous vehicle in production before anyone else. But, how do they even work?

All cars are given a “level” rating, which lets drivers know just how autonomous their vehicle actually is. But what do all these levels mean?

The first thing to know about the levels given to autonomous cars is that they are assigned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Because these levels come from one highly regarded source, means that the terminology for these levels will be the same across the board, making it easier for everyone to understand the car’s capabilities. So, what can cars do at these different levels?


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Level 0

Vehicles at this level rely completely on the driver. You’re in charge of braking, steering, and accelerating the car. They may have features like blind spot or collision warnings, but it’s up to the driver to heed these warnings. If you’re driving an older, base model vehicle, yours is probably a level 0.

Level 1

If you’re driving a newer model, luxury vehicle, it’s probably a level 1 self-driving car. These cars include features such as cruise control or steering assistance. Many new cars fall into this category, with futuristic features like automatic emergency braking or adaptive cruise control, or even correcting unintended lane changes. Experts predict that the majority of cars sold in the next few years will fall under this level of self-driving.

Level 2

While level one vehicles can either control steering or speed, Level 2 cars can do both at the same time. They can also control the car for very short periods of time, anything under about a minute. Many luxury automakers currently offer vehicles at this level, but don’t run out and buy one for the self-driving features alone! If you’re looking to kick back and take a nap behind the wheel, these cars are not advanced enough for you. You’ll need to remain alert and focused on driving the whole time at this stage.

Level 3

Most automakers are planning on skipping over Level Three in new vehicles. Cars at this level are considered to have conditional autonomy. This means that they can control all aspects of driving and maneuvering the car but will need the driver to take over in case of emergency. Some people have questioned the safety of this level, saying that people could become too dependent on the vehicle being able to self-drive and might not be in a position to take over driving if need be.

Level 4

Level 4 self-driving cars are like teenagers; in most situations they can take care of themselves, but every now and then they’ll still need some guidance. This is the level that most automakers are aiming to produce by 2021. These cars will be able to fully drive themselves, and will automatically shut off if their systems fail, no driver intervention required. Since human drivers aren’t necessary in a level 4 car, say goodbye to steering wheels and peddles, as their addition won’t be necessary and would only drive up the cost of production.

Level 5

This level is every automaker’s goal. At this point, the car could operate without a single occupant. To date, no automakers have been bold enough to predict when they’ll have a functional Level 5 vehicle. Getting to this level will require many years of work. Self-driving cars currently have difficulties with driving in bad weather or on roads where the lane lines have washed away. There has been speculation that cars at this level wouldn’t be made available for the general public, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

While some features of self-driving cars seem closer than ever, it will probably be many years before we’re all being chauffeured around by futuristic robot cars. That doesn’t make it any less exciting to think about!

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