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Alliance seeks clarity on vehicle automation levels to prevent confusion

WASHINGTON — The Alliance for Automotive Innovation is seeking to further clarify the definitions and overall understanding of the levels of vehicle automation in an effort to clear up confusion over the driver’s role and the system’s capabilities.

In a letter sent Thursday to SAE International, the alliance said it has become “increasingly concerned about persistent confusion among consumers and policymakers” over the difference between partial automation, or Level 2, and automated driving systems, Level 3-5.

“It has become apparent to us that industry, government and other stakeholders need to focus even more attention on clarifying the essential difference between these systems,” the alliance wrote in its letter to George Nicols, chair of SAE’s On-Road Automated Driving Task Force.

The effort comes as more automakers, including Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Stellantis and Tesla, plan to roll out more advanced levels of automated driving technology in the near future despite reports of driver misuse of Level 2 systems.

SAE, a global association of engineers and related technical experts, revised its levels of automation — which range from no driving automation (Level 0) to full driving automation (Level 5) — in April by more clearly defining the differences between driver-assist features and automated driving features.

Level 2, for example, can include automated driver-assist features where both lane-centering and adaptive cruise control are simultaneously engaged, but the driver must pay attention and be prepared to take control at any time.

No automaker sells a vehicle for public purchase today that is considered fully autonomous, or Level 5, with the system handling all aspects of the driving task.

“We are interested in further discussions with SAE on additional supporting or clarifying materials that could be developed or further modifications that could be made to SAE J3016 or the supporting materials that have already been developed that may provide further clarity and reduce confusion,” wrote the alliance, which represents most major automakers, as well as some suppliers and tech companies, in the U.S.

The alliance’s effort to further clarify the differences among the levels of automation come after NHTSA last week finalized a rule that eliminates the need for automated vehicle manufacturers to equip AVs with traditional manual driving controls to meet occupant protection standards.

NHTSA has not yet issued specific regulations or performance standards for Level 2 driver-assist systems.

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