Tesla’s Autopilot Feature Tests Definition Of Autonomous Cars


As cars become more and more automated requiring the driver exert little control over the driving functions of a vehicle, when does a car cross that bridge from being manual to fully autonomous. Thankfully the NHTSA has unofficially classified 5 levels of autonomy for all car depending on what technology that car has.

With Tesla Model S’s autopilot feature, if you’re on the highway, you can engage the feature and technically wouldn’t have to have both hands on the steering wheel. The Tesla Model S at that point would take over and through a series of sensors combined with the sedan, would navigate the highway for you. Of course, you wouldn’t be able to use this function on city streets and neighborhoods.

But now back to the classification levels of autonomy. According to the NHTSA the five levels are, 

  • Level 0: The driver completely controls the vehicle at all times.
  • Level 1: Individual vehicle controls are automated, such as electronic stability control or automatic braking.
  • Level 2: At least two controls can be automated in unison, such as adaptive cruise control in combination with lane keeping.
  • Level 3: The driver can fully cede control of all safety-critical functions in certain conditions. The car senses when conditions require the driver to retake control and provides a “sufficiently comfortable transition time” for the driver to do so.
  • Level 4: The vehicle performs all safety-critical functions for the entire trip, with the driver not expected to control the vehicle at any time. As this vehicle would control all functions from start to stop, including all parking functions, it could include unoccupied cars.

Almost all cars that we have on the road today are basically Level 0. You are at the whims of your own controls and are legally responsible for anything that your car does (pending any recalls.)

Once the Tesla Model S achieves autopilot status, this pushes the Tesla Model S into Level 3. That would require that drivers get a special Level 3 license to prove that they can responsibly pilot such a vehicle. Thus the gray area for this car.

I have a feeling Musk and his legal team will find a way to skirt the laws of what is and isn’t a class three vehicle.

In the meantime, if you’re a Tesla Model S owner, there’s literally nothing you have to do to get the update as it’s all OTA (over the air.) You may have to pony up the $4,250 for the tech package in order to get it.

H/T – WS Journal