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Are All Autonomous Vehicles the Same?

Cranwell & Moore P.L.C. Feb. 14, 2023

Virginia residents can benefit from understanding the six very distinct levels of autonomous vehicles. These range from no automation to complete automation in which no human driver would be needed or used.

Many people in Virginia likely have read or heard reports about self-driving cars hitting the roads. They may even have seen these vehicles at some point. However, it is not uncommon for people to hold some misconceptions about what really constitutes a self-driving car or the technologies that are included in them.

The fact of the matter is that there are six unique levels of autonomy identified by the Society of Automotive Engineers and adopted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Different vehicles will have different levels that dictate what can or should be done to ensure safe operation.

Understanding Levels 0 to 5

At either end of the vehicle autonomy spectrum are levels 0 and 5. A level 0 vehicle has absolutely no driver assistance features included-not even cruise control.

A level 5 vehicle is designed and built to operate with no human involvement. The computer systems onboard this level of vehicle are expected to learn and act like humans. A level 5 vehicle is meant to be driven in any condition, traffic or environment and on any type of road.

Just below level 5 is a level 4 vehicle. While both have the ability to operate completely without the involvement of a human, a level 4 vehicle is only designed to do so in specific situations. A level 4 vehicle has a designated operational design domain that maps out the scenarios in which it can be driven.

The level 3 vehicle is also able to drive without human interaction but it only meant to do so in certain instances. The difference between a level 3 and a level 4 vehicle is that the former is built so that a human driver can assume control in other situations. This transference of control from computer to human separates level 3 and 4 vehicles.

Level 2 vehicles have some automation that allows drivers to cede some control or that assists drivers. Examples of these features include adaptive cruise control, emergency braking assistance and lane departure warnings. Human drivers are required to be in control of these vehicles at all times. Level 1 vehicles have more rudimentary assistance features.

Consumer Trust Not High for Fully Autonomous Vehicles

Deloitte’s 2019 Global Automotive Consumer Study found that the tide of acceptance for fully autonomous vehicles has slipped from where it once was. Accidents that garnered a lot of media attention seem to have impacted people’s trust and willingness to ride in a vehicle without a human driver.

Virginians Deserve to Be Safe

Despite low consumer trust, self-driving cars are continuing to be developed and will likely be on the roads at some point. In the meantime, level 2 vehicles are everywhere already. When accidents do occur involving these vehicles, Virginia residents should not hesitate to seek legal assistance.