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An automated vehicle (AV) is a

[vehicle] in which at least some aspects of a safety-critical control function (e.g., steering, throttle, or braking) occur without direct driver input.[1]
broad term encompassing autonomous, self-driving, or driverless vehicles. It was first defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and later adopted by NHTSA.[2]
[v]ehicle[] that rel[ies] on sensors and computer analytics to sense their environments and perform varying degrees of the driving task. There are six levels of driving automation, ranging from level zero (no automation) to level five (full driving automation).[3]


"Vehicles that provide safety warnings to drivers (forward crash warning, for example) but do not perform a control function are, in this context, not considered automated, even though the technology necessary to provide that warning involves varying degrees of automation (e.g., the necessary data are received and processed, and the warning is given, without driver input). Automated vehicles may use on-board sensors, cameras, GPS, and telecommunications to obtain information in order to make their own judgments regarding safety-critical situations and act appropriately by effectuating control at some level."[4]

"Technological advancements are creating a continuum between conventional, fully human-driven vehicles and AVs, which partially or fully drive themselves and which may ultimately require no driver at all. Within this continuum are technologies that enable a vehicle to assist and make decisions for a human driver. . . . NHTSA has created a five-level hierarchy to help clarify this continuum:

  • Level 0 (no automation): The driver is in complete and sole control of the primary vehicle functions (brake, steering, throttle, and motive power) at all times, and is solely responsible for monitoring the roadway and for safe vehicle operation.
  • Level 1 (function-specific automation): Automation at this level involves one or more specific control functions; if multiple functions are automated, they operate independently of each other. The driver has overall control, and is solely responsible for safe operation, but can choose to cede limited authority over a primary control (as in adaptive cruise control ACC); the vehicle can automatically assume limited authority over a primary control (as in electronic stability control); or the automated system can provide added control to aid the driver in certain normal driving or crash-imminent situations (e.g., dynamic brake support in emergencies).
  • Level 2 (combined-function automation): This level involves automation of at least two primary control functions designed to work in unison to relieve the driver of controlling those functions. Vehicles at this level of automation can utilize shared authority when the driver cedes active primary control in certain limited driving situations. The driver is still responsible for monitoring the roadway and safe operation, and is expected to be available for control at all times and on short notice. The system can relinquish control with no advance warning and the driver must be ready to control the vehicle safely.
  • Level 3 (limited self-driving automation): Vehicles at this level of automation enable the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions, and in those conditions to rely heavily on the vehicle to monitor for changes in those conditions requiring transition back to driver control. The driver is expected to be available for occasional control, but with sufficiently comfortable transition time.
  • Level 4 (full self-driving automation): The vehicle is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip. This includes both occupied and unoccupied vehicles. By design, safe operation rests solely on the automated vehicle system."[5]
  • Level 5: "The automated system performs all driving tasks, under all conditions that a human driver could."[6]


See also[]