What are the six levels of vehicle automation?

Vehicle automation, or autonomous vehicles, is a topic that continues to gain traction in the general conversation. While this may sound like a futuristic idea, vehicle automation is already a reality. In fact, it is likely that your current car features automation, just not necessarily the driverless form that we often associate with the terminology. To clarify the idea of vehicle automation for the general public the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) publishes information to define vehicle automation and the six levels of vehicle automation, which decipher the extent of automation in a given vehicle.

A number of vehicles on the road currently can be considered to have some form of vehicle automation. These levels of automation vary from the classic cruise control to current self-driving technology found in Tesla’s to the more future looking full driving autonomy. Below we list out the six levels of vehicle automation and provide some detail for each level to help clarify vehicle automation.

Level 0

A level 0 vehicle has no automation. The car is fully controlled by a human driver who must perform all driving tasks.

Level 1

A level 1 vehicle has driver assistance. This means that the vehicle can assist the driver with a single automated system such as adaptive cruise control.

Level 2

A level 2 vehicle has partial automation. This refers to the ability of the vehicle to perform both steering and power control features. An example of level 2 automation would be Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS)

Level 3

Level 3 automation denotes conditional automation. At this level the vehicle can perform the majority of driving tasks though a driver is still necessary. This is the level at which the vehicle has primary control of the vehicle with the driver serving a monitory role.

Level 4

At level 4 the driver becomes even less necessary and the vehicle can perform all driving tasks under certain conditions.

Level 5

Level 5 is the futuristic level of automation that many associate with the term autonomous vehicle. At this level the driver is unnecessary. The vehicle can perform all driving tasks without any need for manual override or monitoring.