Car 101: the five Levels of autonomous driving - Stuff

Autonomous driving technology is a hot topic at the moment.

Like many automotive technologies that are hot topics (electric power, airless tyres, flying cars) it's easy to think that it's happening right nowat high speed and will take over the motoring landscape before your next birthday.

In reality, while there have been great strides in self-driving technology in the last decade, we're still on quite a long path.

That path has steps that have been agreed upon by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), which has released an international standard that defines the six "Levels" of driving automation.

That's good, because it means when carmakers and governments talk about autonomous technology, you can be sure they're all talking about the same thing.

The Levels help us understand where we are now and where we need to go to make self-driving cars a reality.

Let's not worry about Level 0, because that simply means no assistance - except perhaps passive stuff like blind-spot warning and forward collision alert.

But what about the others?

Level 1: Driver assistance

Level 1 vehicles can handle the steering to a limited degree, as well as the throttle and brakes, but not in all circumstances, and the driver has to be ready to take over if necessary.

That means the driver must remain aware of what the car is doing at all times. Most modern cars with radar cruise control and higher level lane keep assist systems fall into this category. That includes many mainstream models like the Suzuki Swift and Toyota Corolla.

2: Partial assistance

Steering, braking and throttle can be partially automated, but the car lets the driver take over any time they want. The system also alerts the driver to take over when the car doesn't know what to do.

While the car can monitor its surroundings and other traffic, the driver is still ultimately responsible, as well as needing to monitor the weather and road conditions and be ready to take over if necessary.

The Mercedes-Benz E-class, BMW 5 and 7-series and all Tesla modelsare Level 2 cars.

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