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Most residents in Washington State have likely heard a lot of talk or read many articles about the emergence of autonomous vehicles. They may not be aware that they have even seen vehicles on the road with some levels of autonomous capability. This is due, in part, to the fact that there are multiple levels of autonomy and some still require the involvement of human drivers. While these vehicles are touted as a means to improve safety on the road, that may not be as straightforward as it sounds and the different levels of autonomy may contribute to that.

As explained by Consumer Reports, autonomy in vehicles is ranked from level 0 to level 5 with only the latter being completely able to operate with no human interaction in any situation, on any road or highway. Many new cars identified as level 1 vehicles today feature things like adaptive cruise control. More advanced autonomous driving systems, like those in some Teslas, are generally level 2.

At level 2, a human driver is supposed to remain fully aware at all times. This is because the computer may transfer control to the human at any time with little to no advance warning. This might be contrary to what some people expect when putting a vehicle in an autopilot mode, causing them to believe they can daydream, read or engage in other activities when the autonomous system is in control.

ThinkGrowth.org highlights this as a key risk of these systems. Another concern with newer vehicles is the dramatic change in the nature of the interface via which drivers engage with vehicles. Computer screens have replaced what most drivers know, forcing them to relearn how to interact with a vehicle.