The term 'self-driving car' is used for a wide variety of technical support systems for car drivers. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has distinguished six types, as mentioned in the tabel above. This classification is recognized worldwide.
At SAE level 0, a car has been equipped with various warning systems, such as unvoluntary deviation from lane, traffic in the blind spot, and emergency braking.
At SEA levels 1 and 2, cars can steer independently or/and adjust their speed in specific conditions on motorways. Whether drivers are allowed to take their hands from the steering wheel depends on national law. That is certainly not the case in Europe. As soon as environmental conditions make steering and acceleration more complex, for example after turning onto a busy street, the driver must immediately take over the steering.
A properly functioning SAE Level 3 system allows drivers to take their eyes off the road and focus on other activities. They must sit behind the wheel and be on standby and are always held responsible for driving the car. They must immediately take over control of the car as soon as 'the system' gives a ('disengagement') signal, which means that it can no longer handle the situation. There is currently no car worldwide that is accredited at SEA-3 level.
This level of control is not sufficient for driverless taxi services. Automotive and technology companies such as General Moters and Alphabet have been working hard to meet the requirements of the higher levels (SAE 4). Their expensive cars (up to $250,000) have automated backups, meaning they can handle any situation under specified conditions, such as well-designed roads, during the day and at a certain speed. Under these circumstances, no driver is required to be present.
SAE Level 5 automation can operate without a driver in all conditions. There is currently no vehicle that meets this requirement.
The variety of options in this classification explains why the term 'self-driving car' should not be used. Cars classified at SAE level 1 and 2 can best be called 'automated cars' and cars from SAE level 3 onwards can be called autonomous cars.
The state of California introduced new rules in 2019 that allow cars at SAE 4 level to participate in traffic. Very strict conditions apply to this. As a result, Alphabet (Waymo) and General Motors (Cruise) have been allowed to launch driverless taxi services. All rides are monitored with cameras to prevent reckless behavior or vandalism.
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