What Do SAE Automated Driving Levels Mean Anyway?

A crucial observation is that the SAE J3016 is not like an Underwriters Laboratories seal of approval. It defines certain capabilities, but it does not provide any assurance that the vehicle is safe in any way, points out Carnegie Mellon University professor Phillip Koopman.

He also warns against designations like “Level 2+” or “Level 3.5.” “Fractional or “+” terminology is specifically prohibited by J3016 8.3,” Koopman notes. Such vehicles may well have additional technology beyond that required to meet the specification, but there is no way to describe that within SAE definitions…

While Level 3 states that the car can drive itself, it does not say that the driver is relieved of responsibility while it does so. “J3016 does not say that Level 3 means “eyes off road” anywhere,” Koopman notes. “That is a concept that is entirely outside the scope of the standard.”