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Understanding autonomous vehicle levels

Residents in Washington State may at times be confused when they hear or read reports about autonomous vehicles. In some cases, there may be talk of vehicles in which a person simply is the passenger but in other situations, there are references to a human person assuming responsibility for driving. This confusion is natural and the explanation for it is that there is not one flavor of an autonomous vehicle. Rather, there are multiple levels of automation.

As reported by CNET, the Society of Automotive Engineers outlined six unique levels of automation about five years ago. These levels have since been adopted by the United States Department of Transportation. The lowest level, zero, actually features no automation at all. The highest level, five, is a completely automated vehicle in which the only requirement from a human being is the entry of a desired destination.

According to Car and Driver magazine, a level four vehicle is able to operate completely autonomously but does allow for a human being to take over the act of driving if desired or needed. A level three vehicle can also operate without a human but is only allowed to do so in select situations, such as on surface streets. 

Most cars on the road today fall into the level one category in which there are some features that provide driver assistance but they must be initiated by the human driver. A car that has adaptive cruise control would be one example of a level one vehicle. A vehicle with two or more autonomous features that work together is a level two vehicle.

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