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SAE Revises Levels Of Driving Automation As Technology Advances

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has released a revised rating system for autonomous vehicles that provides further clarity on the differences between the different driving system levels.

The SAE J3016 Levels of Automation range from no driving automation (Level 0) to full driving automation requiring zero human interaction whatsoever (Level 5). The organization says its newly revised rating system “refines the previous version of the Recommended Practice with the addition of several new terms, substantial refinement and clarification of misinterpreted concepts, and restructuring of certain definitions into more logical groupings.”

One of the most important changes provides further clarity on the differences between an SAE Level 3 and an SAE Level 4 system. An SAE Level 3 system, according to a newly published infographic, will not require any input from the operator when the autonomous system is active, but may request the driver takes over the controls in certain scenarios. A Level 4 system, by comparison, will not require the user to take over the controls, although its automated systems will only work in certain driving conditions. A Level 5 system, meanwhile, will work in all driving scenarios no matter what and will never require the driver to take over the controls at any point.

A good example of a Level 4 system is a geofenced autonomous taxi like the Cruise Origin, which is fully autonomous but can only work within a certain geographic area. A Level 5 vehicle, by comparison, would not be geofenced and would be able to autonomously take its occupants wherever they want to go.

Under the newly amended SAE J3016 Levels of Automation rulebook, SAE Level 1 and 2 driving automation systems have also been given the name “Driver Support Systems” instead of “Automated Driving Systems” used for SAE Levels 3 and above. This removes some of the confusion in the previous version of the J3016 standards, which referred to Level 1 systems as automated.

The SAE’s amendments will be important as more automakers and autonomous driving companies begin to deploy more Level 3 and above vehicles on public streets in the coming years, helping politicians sort out the legal framework the semi-autonomous and fully-autonomous cars will operate in.

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Sam McEachern: Sam loves to write and has a passion for auto racing, karting and performance driving of all types.

View Comments (10)

  • I am not sure the updates provide complete clarity on the current form of Supercruise as a Level 2 system or Tesla FSD which in the Beta form is Level 2, but aspires to be Level 3 when all the bugs are out and it is not Beta.

    • If I’m understanding this correctly and didn’t miss anything, wouldn’t the latest version of SuperCruise be Level 3 whereas Tesla’s FSD is Level 2? Tesla specifies that hands are supposed to be on the wheel even though many have figured out a work around.

      • No, because the Supercruise driver still has to be attentive and has full responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle. FSD if past Beta could navigate, and could take full responsibility (personally I do not think Tesla will make it there for a long time)

  • It will truly be fascinating once you step into a self driving car and it takes you from place A to B. Think of how this will change certain things such as getting stopped by police while driving, reduction in accidents, less traffic, etc.