The 5 Levels of Autonomous Driving

In this article, we will help you understand the different levels of autonomous driving and where we currently stand with autonomous technology.

A few weeks ago, we took a look at how the self-driving truck race is heating up. More companies are joining the competition to test new technologies and get closer to the date when we will see automated trucks on the road.

Just recently, Reuters reported that in a world’s first, a driverless electric truck had begun daily freight deliveries on a public road in Sweden. The truck, developed by the Swedish startup Einride, is described as a level 4 autonomous vehicle.

To help you get a better understanding of the different levels of autonomous driving and where we currently stand with the technology, we compiled all the different features below.


The Levels of Automation Explained


Level 0 = No Automation

Level 0 vehicles rely on the driver for every driving action; they might include some basic features such as cruise control or warning systems to prevent impending accidents.

Level 1 = Driver Assistance / “hands-on”

Examples for such driver assistance systems include automatic braking to avoid collisions and lane-keep assist technology; they are quite ubiquitous in today’s vehicles.

Level 2 = Partly Automated Driving /”hands-off”

Semi-autonomous driving assistance systems can brake automatically, accelerate and, unlike level 1, take over steering.

Level 3 = Conditional Automation / “eyes off”

The distinction between Level 2 and 3 is far greater than between the previous stages. With this level of automation, the car is capable of driving autonomously over long distances (e.g., on freeways), but the driver must be able to take back control within seconds after a warning. For example, Tesla’s autopilot can be classified somewhere between levels 2 and 3.

Level 4 = High Automation / “mind off”

Level 4 is a transition level between conditional automation and full automation that Level 5 promises. That is also one reason why there are a few slightly different definitions of which feature this level includes. In general, Level 4 vehicles can complete entire journeys without driver intervention, but it might be confined to limited spatial areas (e.g., freeways) or under specific circumstances (e.g., traffic jams). According to some, there is thus still the need for a cockpit with steering wheels and pedals for the situations when a driver might assume control. The driverless trucks by Einride fall under this category but don’t have a cockpit as a remote driver is able to engage and steer the truck from miles away.

This level of automation might not even require an actual steering wheel; a remote operator can take over control in some instances. This is the case for the Einride’s driverless trucks.

Level 5 = Full Automation

Level 5 is capable of completing an entire hands-off, driverless journey, it can basically go anywhere, anytime, under any condition. There are no geographical constraints as there are for Level 4 vehicles and no cockpit is needed anymore, making every person inside the vehicle a passenger.
To ensure this level of automation, these vehicles rely heavily on advanced vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-environment communications.
Experts are still debating if Level 5 automation is indeed achievable. John Krafcik, CEO of Alphabet’s self-driving unit Waymo, believes that “automation will always have constraints.”