The Definition of Automated Driving: New SAE Standard

The world just keeps changing. Something as simple as how to get from Point A to Point B invokes major debate and concern. But that’s because the concept of automated driving will not only affect how we view transportation and safety, but it will also affect our society and culture, not to mention the infrastructure of roads and communication systems.

According to J.D. Power, 24% of drivers are interested in some form of driverless vehicles. This could possibly be due to the idea that your commute could be safer, more efficient, and possibly more pleasant.

But that’s only if intensive safety and technical standards can be achieved when it comes to autonomous vehicles. And, it’s really not that simple to create such standards for new technologies.

In fact, when automated driving is discussed, many people struggle with difficult questions like:

• Should it be allowed at all?
• Who is liable if something happens, since technically no one is ‘behind the wheel’?
• Would it be socially acceptable to have a vehicle take your child somewhere without an adult present?

Then again, according to, “More than 90% of road accidents are caused by human error.” So think, too, of how many lives could be saved if your car itself was the ‘designated driver.’

Basically, the discussion is all over the board with many opinions—ranging from apprehension, to anticipation, to enthusiasm.

Similarly, definitions are all over the board, too.

This is where SAE International has stepped into the conversation and has helped shape it—with a standard that’s a “first” for industry—by defining levels to help understand what automated driving is and providing a common language for the automotive industry as well.

Issued in January 2014, SAE International’s On-Road Automated Vehicle Standards Committee published the SAE Information Report: (J3016) “Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to On-Road Motor Vehicle Automated Driving Systems.”

This Information Report provides a taxonomy describing the full range of levels of automation in on-road motor vehicles. It also includes operational definitions for advanced levels of automation and related terms. This document provides a foundation for further standards development activities and a common language for discussions within the broader “automated/autonomous vehicle” community.

Specifically, it delivers a harmonized classification system and supporting definitions that:

• Identifies six levels of driving automation from “no automation” to “full automation”
• Bases definitions and levels on functional aspects of technology
• Describes categorical distinctions for a step-wise progression through the levels
• Is consistent with current industry practice
• Eliminates confusion and is useful across numerous disciplines (engineering, legal, media, and public discourse)
• Educates a wider community by clarifying for each level what role (if any) drivers have in performing the dynamic driving task while a driving automation system is engaged.

What do you think about the incredible potential of driverless technology? How do you think it will change your entire world, and not just how you get places?

Access a complimentary table summarizing levels of automation for on-road vehicles, or for more information or to purchase, visit J3016: Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to On-Road Motor Vehicle Automated Driving Systems.