These are the six recognized levels of vehicle automation

Self-driving cars are on the horizon, but not all are created equal

The interior of a self-driving car.

If you've seen sci-fi movies like The Fifth Element or the original Total Recall, you know self-driving cars have long been a Hollywood staple. But thanks to a surge of innovation in recent years, they’re inching closer to reality.

Not all automated cars are like the self-driving Johnny Cab, though. There are actually six widely accepted levels of automation, according to standards set by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

Level 0: No Automation

A human is completely in control of the car. The vehicle may have warning systems, like blind-spot detection, but it can’t start, stop or turn without a driver. Level 0 describes pretty much every car manufactured up until the 2000s—from the Ford Model T to the 1967 Chevrolet Corvette to a 1998 Jeep Cherokee.

Level 1: Driver Assistance

While a human does most of the driving, the car has some systems, like adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist, that can pitch in. Many of these features have recently become standard, finding their way into everything from hatchbacks to SUVs.

Level 2: Partial Automation

The car is capable of performing some acceleration, braking and steering functions on its own, but the driver needs to remain engaged and ready to intervene at all times. Most of these systems are designed to be driving aids, not chauffeurs. A prime example is Tesla’s Autopilot system.

Level 3: Conditional Automation

A big technological leap, Level 3 vehicles take charge of steering, acceleration and braking while scanning the road ahead and reacting to most obstacles. These cars will also recognize their limitations and will ask a human driver to intervene when necessary. Thus, an actual person must still be in the driver’s seat. There are no Level 3 or above cars for sale in Ontario, according to the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network. In fact, many automakers are skipping this step and focusing on more advanced self-driving systems.

Level 4: High Automation

Now we’re getting into the realm of science fiction. Level 4 cars would use cutting-edge artificial intelligence to go from point A to point B without any human intervention. While technically “driverless,” the vehicles’ technology, in its infancy, would likely have limitations such as only operating at slower speeds or in certain areas, like cities. No Level 4 cars are commercially available, but in 2018, Waymo, a division of Google's parent company, launched a self-driving taxi servicein Arizona.

Level 5: Full Automation

The holy grail of automation. Level 5 cars can drive themselves anywhere, at any speed and in any weather. These vehicles would be so automated that they probably wouldn’t have steering wheels or brake pedals. Many experts believe it’ll be many years before Level 5 cars are available for sale—though General Motors is currently experimenting with steering wheel-less cars.

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Learn more about what the future of driving has in store at caasco.com/autonomous

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