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To what extent is my vehicle automated?

Feb 26, 2019

Automation does not automatically mean "driverless vehicles". The stages of automated driving are various and classifying them correctly is a complicated matter. So how automated is my vehicle? An answer in five steps.

Rear-view-car-mirror in a car and somebody's hands on a steering wheel, outside it's raining


With the "Five Levels of Driving Automation", the international automotive experts at SAE International have developed a scheme that can be used to classify the different levels of automated driving. This helps to avoid inconsistent and incorrect terminology and to create clarity on the topic. We have summarized these five levels.


Level 0-2: Responsibility of the drivers


Almost self-explanatory, level zero stands for vehicles with no assistance systems at all. However, as soon as the vehicle is equipped with "distance" or "dead angle" sensors, we are already talking about level one of vehicle automation.

With proximity switches and lane departure warning systems, level two systems can support driving on motorways. The vehicle automatically accelerates up to the set speed and brakes if you drive too close. In addition, the system is able to hold the lane. Also in curves. The system is purely for the support of the drivers and does not take over the control.


Level 3-4: The system between risk and safety


In principle, levels three and four offer the same technical functionalities. The assistance systems maintain and change lanes and control speed. In contrast to level two, you could even take your hand off the steering wheel if the legal framework does allow that. In case of doubt, the system makes the driver understand: "Please take back full control of steering and acceleration". The problem, however, is that drivers who are not actively behind the wheel for a long time may be too distracted to take control in time.


Level 4 has a solution for this problem: If the system detects, for example, that fog appears at a distance of one kilometre, but the drivers do not react to the warning of the system, the nearest safe stop is targeted.


At all levels described so far, the drivers always have sovereignty over the vehicles and can take control at any time.


Level 5: Automated under all circumstances


Whether in rain, snow, chaotic traffic situations, in the city, in the country or on the motorway, by day, by night... At level five vehicles are all-rounders according to the SAE scheme. Steering wheels and accelerator pedals would no longer be necessary, the occupants could lean back comfortably. A vision that still needs decades of development time in terms of technical, social and regulatory framework conditions. Moreover, not all experts are sure whether it will happen at all. It is more important to ensure that the levels of automation that are already possible today function reliably and constantly under all framework conditions. This classification is described with "Operational Design Domains" (ODD's), i.e. the description of the conditions under which an automated system runs reliably.