Although this article is about a new technical advancement in the automobile industry, I am most impressed by the work of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It already defines the whole range of self-driving vehicle regulations well ahead of the sales of those special automobiles. It deserves a pat on its back for such good work! Here is the list of the classifications, from full manual control (Level 0) to full autonomy (Level 4).
- No-Automation (Level 0): The driver is in complete and sole control of the primary vehicle controls—brake, steering, throttle, and motive power—at all times.
- Function-specific Automation (Level 1): Automation at this level involves one or more specific control functions. Examples include electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, where the vehicle automatically assists with braking to enable the driver to regain control of the vehicle or stop faster than possible by acting alone.
- Combined Function Automation (Level 2): This level involves automation of at least two primary control functions designed to work in unison to relieve the driver of control of those functions. An example a Level 2 system is adaptive cruise control in combination with lane tracking.
- Limited Self-Driving Automation (Level 3): Vehicles at this level of automation enable the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions and in those conditions to rely heavily on the vehicle to watch for changes in those conditions that would require transition back to driver control. The driver is expected to be available for occasional control, but with sufficiently comfortable transition time. The Google car is an example of limited self-driving automation.
- Full Self-Driving Automation (Level 4): The vehicle is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip. This includes both occupied and unoccupied vehicles.