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My Car Did It!? Drivers Beware Autopilot Not A Legal Defense If Your Car Kills Someone or You!

Updated: Sep 3

Despite the glossy marketing and promises of cars that drive themselves; Drivers are paying the price for vehicle automation mishaps.


As California court filings of false advertising mount against electric car conglomerate Telsa in regards to how it represents it’s “Autopilot” feature. Notwithstanding the misuse of Tesla vehicles by some drivers, #Tesladriversleeping, the court filings are tarnishing Tesla’s reputation in the automation space. Some politicians, like Dan O'Dowd, have been using this particular moment to fight against Tesla by pushing for more regulation for autonomous vehicles. Check out the Ad campaign Dan O'Dowd put out in regards to Tesla's "Autopilot".




With so much uncertainty and confusion when it comes to vehicle automations, Icon City News takes a moment to demystify the 6 levels of self driving automation designated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). ICN will also identify the automation levels currently available to US consumers.


Level 0 : No Driving Automation

This one is pretty straightforward. The car does not have any automated driving features. This is the manual experience. You, the Human, perform all DDT’s (dynamic driving tasks)


Featured photo of the Qute, one of the world’s cheapest cars approximately. $2500 USD, built by India based auto manufacturer Bajaj.



Level 1 : Driver Assistance

At this level the vehicle may have 1 or more automated steering or acceleration features that serve as a convenience for the driver, however, these features are independent from each and are engaged independently. These features are driver controlled and do not act together as one system. This means that You, the Human, still perform the bulk of the DDT’s. Adaptive cruise control is one example of a level 1 technology.

Photo: Animated example of an adaptive cruise control system that aids the driver by accelerating/ braking to maintain a predetermined distance from the leading vehicle.


Level 2 : Partial Driving Automation Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS)

Finally, we can kick back and relax! Right!? No, do not leave the driver’s seat yet and be sure to “keep you eyes on the road”. At level 2 , we do finally get to some degree of vehicle automation, however, the conditions are limited and the driver needs to be engage and alert at all anytime. Just in case you are wondering, Tesla’s vehicles fall into level 2 of the driving automation categories. These vehicles combine the features from level 1 that control steering, acceleration, and braking into a single system that the driver can engage. The overall safety accountability, however, still lies with the Human driver. The driver is still expected to monitor the road conditions and be prepared to intervene in situation outside the scope of the vehicle’s technologies. Because the drivers is expected to remain alert in case conditions arise, this is still considered a DDT (dynamic driving task). The driver’s eyes are to remain on the road at all times and therefore engaging in in cell phone usage or sleeping are not allowed activities.

Photo: Tesla complete line up S,3,X,Y (Note: Tesla AutoPilot currently can legally only provide Level 2 “partial automation” in the US)


Level 3 : Conditional Driving Automation

At this level and beyond is when you the vehicle is actually driving itself. The ADS (Automated Driving System) complete all the DDT’s which include crash mitigation and avoidance capabilities. not seen in lower levels. Although the driver is not responsible for dynamic driving tasks, the driver is still required to take control of vehicle when the vehicle requests. Level 3 vehicles currently do not exist in Northern America, however, the future seems bright as Mercedes Benz plans an American launch. The luxury vehicle manufacture currently has approved level 3 vehicles operating in Europe and is the only car manufacture to have a certified level 3 vehicle globally. Mercedes has promised filings this year for approval in the US. Drive Pilot Level 3, Mercedes Benz’s fully automated ADS, has plans to kick off in California and Nevada where vehicles could be seen on roads as early mid-2023.

Photo: Mercedes Benz S-class Drive Pilot level 3 sensor chart


Level 4 : High Driving Automation

Level 4 does not require a driver to be in vehicle. This will be the technology that future city transportation will be centered around. Automated taxi services are the best example of what Level 5 “high driving automation” will be able to drive. Vehicles in this category will not need to have steering wheels and passengers will hold no liability or responsibility for the driving aspect or dynamic driving tasks. This technology still relies on specific conditions and situations and would likely be used in low speed urban environments with more predictive downtown city street grids.

Photo: Level 4 vehicle produced by Zoox, a ride-hauling start-up partnered with Amazon. Zoox is planning to provide driverless taxi services to its subscribers.


Level 5 : Full Driving Automation

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, its a self driving object?! Level 5 “Full Driving Automation” truly represents the future of driverless vehicles. These vehicles are fully automated and have the supporting technology to be able to adapt to any road conditions. Vehicles in this category may lack both a driver and/or passengers. Level 5 vehicles will likely be exclusive to the logistics industry as advancements have already been made in producing fully autonomous semi-rigs for transporting goods. Waymo an autonomous technology company owned by google already has a pilot program moving Wayfair’s freight using an autonomous semi-truck in Texas.

Photo: Waymo‘s lineup of autonomous vehicles


The 6 Level categorization system for vehicle automation was established by the Society of Automotive Engineers or SAE.org Take a look at the SAE summary table of the levels of driving automation.


*This article does not intend to promote any specific vehicle brand or model. Icon City News has not received any compensation to feature any particular vehicle and implore consumers to research and chose vehicles that meet their safety standards, technology needs, and/or budget. We have included the crash safety testing and technology reviews from reputable sources for some of the vehicles featured via photos in this article.


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