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Marketer’s Introduction to Automated Vehicles

This edition of Marketing Trends will provide a brief overview of autonomous vehicles, including how to decipher the different levels of automation, real-world examples of different levels of vehicle automation, barriers to adoption.

Automation Levels

Automation is described using six levels that are defined by the Society of Automation Engineers (SAE) J3016 standard. USDOT has adopted this standard. SAE’s website provides a handy graphic that summarizes the differences between the levels.

Level 0

Features like antilock brakes, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot warnings that provide warnings and momentary assistance.

Level 1

Features that provide steering support or acceleration to assist the driver. These include lane centering and adaptive cruise control.

Level 2

Features that provide steering support and acceleration to assist the driver, e.g. lane centering and adaptive cruise control. Note that levels 0-2 require a human to be driving the car at all times and constantly supervise the automation features to maintain safety. Tesla’s Autopilot feature is a prime example of Level 2 automation.

Level 3

At Level 3 automation and above, the human is not driving while the automated driving features are engaged. A good example is the Smart Circuit passenger shuttle in Columbus, Ohio. The shuttle runs along a 1.4-mile loop in downtown Columbus. The shuttle is self-driving, but a human operator is on board to oversee the system and take control if necessary. [1].

Another example of Level 3 automation is the 2019 Audi A8’s Traffic Jam Pilot feature, a “hands-off, eyes-off conditionally automated mode that allows the driver to focus on things other than driving under predefined circumstances, though the driver must be available to retake control when the vehicle deems it necessary.” The system is capable of negotiating traffic at speeds of up to 37 mph in hands-off situations. [2]. Unfortunately, Traffic Jam Pilot technology is not currently available in US models.

Level 4

Like Level 3 automation features, Level 4 features should only be deployed when certain conditions are met. However, Level 4 Automation differs in that it does not require a human to drive the vehicle at all. Beginning with Level 4 Automation, a steering wheel and pedals may not even be installed in the vehicle.

On December 17, 2019, the State of California authorized the testing and commercial use of light-duty (i.e. less than 10,000 lbs.) autonomous delivery vehicles on the state’s public roads. This policy legalizes the operation of Level 4 and 5 vehicles, provided that the operator meets certain requirements. Given California’s influence on shaping national transportation policy, this new policy will likely prove to be a significant milestone on the road to nationwide autonomous vehicle (AV) adoption.[3]

Level 5

Level 5 is the same as Level 4 automation, except that level 5 automation can be deployed everywhere, in all conditions.

Barriers to Adoption

Several factors are inhibiting the testing and eventual adoption of Level 3 automation and above:

  • In the US, items like road signage, lane markings, and road configurations vary widely from region to region. Unfortunately, mapping these features is one of the most time- and capital-intensive investments in automated technology, and so the US is an inherently difficult environment in which to develop and test AV technology.
  • Level 2 automation has a high potential for abuse by people who overestimate its capabilities and fail to properly monitor the vehicle’s operation. Until vehicles reach Automation Levels 4 and 5, when they’re capable of self-driving, the high potential for abuse means that vehicle automation potentially poses a safety hazard.
  • Congress has yet to enact nationwide legislative guidelines governing autonomous driving technologies, and conflicting state regulations make it difficult to navigate issues like insurance requirements, local laws on vehicle performance, and design standards.


Troy Krause is Marketing Coordinator with CDM Smith who enjoys Boston’s restaurant scene, playing sports, and visiting art museums. He is a contributor to the Marketing Trends blog series and a member of the Communications Committee.

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