Autonomous | Self Driving Car Levels 0-5 Explained

Autonomous or self-driving cars are not some fanciful sci-fi dream any more, we are well on the way to seeing them on UK roads. With car companies like Honda, Nissan, Audi and Tesla investing heavily in research and self-driving technology, Hyundai another key player has partnered with hi-tech company Aurora in their bid to produce their first fully autonomous vehicle.

Autonomous driving buttonTech giants like Google are also spending millions and the UK government has already stated its intention to be at the forefront of the self-driving technology revolution. Things are moving pretty quickly with plans to enable sections of motorways in the UK to be equipped to support fully autonomous driving by as early as 2021-2022.

Here’s a brief outline of what each autonomous level means:

Level 0 - Simple, the driver controls the car, there's no autonomous tech.

Level 1 - Driver still has most of the control, one function related to controlling the steering or speed/acceleration may be controlled automatically.

Level 2 – The vehicle is equipped with at least one function for controlling speed or acceleration, like adaptive cruise control and at has at least one assisting steering function like ‘lane keeping’ technology, in fact a lot of new vehicles, especially higher-grade models are equipped with both technologies. The drive must still be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times.

Level 3 – All critical functions can be automated; braking, steering, acceleration etc, but the driver should still be ready to take control of the vehicle at any time.

Level 4 – Fully autonomous, vehicle should be able to take you from point to point controlling all critical functions whilst at the same time monitoring driving conditions/environment. It should be noted that this is limited by something called ‘Operational Design Domain (ODD)’, which means level 4 may NOT cover every driving scenario, therefore the driver should be ready to take control any time.

Level 5 - This refers to a level of autonomous driving that is deemed equal to a human driving the vehicle, able to cope with and react to all conditions, environments and scenarios, controlling and automating all critical functions of the vehicle.

How Far Are We Down The Self-Driving Road?

Car radar ImageWell, a lot of cars are already equipped with adaptive cruise control which can reduce speed when traffic ahead slows and then speed up back up to a set level.

If you combine adaptive cruise control with ‘lane keeping’ technology (an increasing number of new cars are equipped with it), which can effectively steer your vehicle, you have in essence a car that in theory can drive itself on dual carriageways and motorways and is autonomous level 2.  

Other features in new cars include radar systems combined with automatic braking, sometimes called ‘collision detection’ systems that apply the brakes automatically to prevent head-on collisions. Some new models even have parking assist and autonomous parking aids.

We’re not for one minute suggesting if you have adaptive cruise control and lane keeping technology you sit back and take your hands off the wheel, for one its against the law and secondly it still could be very dangerous.

Fully Autonomous Cars In The Pipeline

Tesla has been a leading player in driverless vehicle technology with its ‘Autopilot’ system first seen back in 2014. However, they did hit a bump in the road with some issues with the system, the new second generation system called ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ uses a radar system to steer and control the vehicles speed on motorways. As well as keeping your car in its lane it is also capable of changing lanes and has an number of emergency systems for collision avoidance which can take control of the steering and apply the brakes automatically to take evasive action. If your parking’s a bit on the suspect side the Enhanced Autopilot technology can also help you with that with its automatic parking system, it really is next generation technology and expected to be available soon.

driver in car with hands behind headAudi plan to release their new state-of-the-art A8 model as soon as 2019 in the UK, it is equipped with the most advanced autonomous technology to date for a full production/main stream passenger vehicle. The tech named ‘Traffic Jam Pilot’, Audi say is capable of full autonomous driving on motorways.

Renault-Nissan Alliance and Toyota plan to produce a fully autonomous vehicle by 2020 whilst other car manufacturers like BMW, Ford, Hyundai, KIA, Peugeot/Citroen/DS group have slated 2021 as their target for a fully self-driving car.

The UK government is fully committed to supporting autonomous vehicles, initial support will be concentrated on new infrastructure on UK motorways. The target is to have ‘stretches' of UK motorways that fully support autonomous driving by 2021.

Experts say by 2025, car manufacturers will have sold an estimated 8 million vehicles that meet autonomous levels 3-5.

You can research your preferred vehicle and what autonomous tech it is equipped with by visiting , use the advanced search tools to find and select you preferred new car, you can then look under standard equipment in the ‘driver aids’ section.