Autonomous Vehicles: How Long Until Cars Are Self-Driving?

A self-driving vehicle or an autonomous vehicle (AV) is a vehicle, such as a car or van, that is capable of travelling on public roads without human input. 

Self-driving vehicles use sensors and control systems to create a three-dimensional model of their surroundings to decide the best course of action; stopping, moving or slowing down.

52% of UK and 72% of US drivers think they can buy a fully self-driving car today.

However, most of the AVs we know in 2023 still require human input as autonomy in vehicles is divided into six levels, according to SAE International

Level 0 – No Driving Automation

The human controls and drives the vehicle from one destination to another, although there may be systems in place to help the driver, for example, the emergency braking system.

(Image Source: Unsplash)

Most vehicles on the road today are Level 0, including Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Toyota Yaris.

Level 1 – Driver Assistance

The vehicle has a single automated system for driver assistance, such as steering, accelerating or braking, but the human is still required to do all the work. 

Level 2 – Partial Driving Automation

A vehicle with automatic steering and accelerating systems working together becomes Level 2. They work together to perform complex driving tasks but require a human to take control should something go wrong.

Tesla’s Autopilot, GM’s Super Cruise, Audi’s Traffic Jam Assist, BMW’s Extended Traffic Jam Assistant and Ford’s Blue Cruise qualify as Level 2.

Level 3 – Conditional Driving Automation

Driver-assistance systems are paired with artificial intelligence (AI) to handle more complex situations. It’s possible to do other things – such as read a book or use your smartphone – while the vehicle is in control, but the driver still needs to be ready to take over if the system fails.

Honda became the first manufacturer to sell a legally approved Level 3 car in March 2021. They were followed by Mercedes-Benz, who received approval for a Level 3 car in December 2021.

Level 4 – High Driving Automation

Unlike Level 3, Level 4 vehicles are programmed to slow down, pull over and park if their systems fail, so the human driver doesn’t need to be ready to take over at all times. However, in extreme cases such as weather, most Level 4 vehicles will still have a steering wheel or pedals so a human can intervene.

In December 2020, Waymo became the first to offer driverless taxi rides to the public in parts of Arizona, United States. Cruise followed them in February 2022, operating in San Francisco. Both fleets qualified as Level 4 vehicles.

Level 5 – Full Driving Automation

The human does not need to do anything but set the destination and enjoy the ride. Level 5 cars, vans and trucks will be able to drive themselves anywhere, under any conditions. 

On December 22, 2021, AV trucking company TuSimple made history when they operated a fully autonomous semi-truck on open public roads without a human on board.

Currently, in 2023, no Level 5 vehicles are available to buy.

(Image Source: SAE International)

When Will Fully Automated Vehicles Hit the Market?

Many traditional carmakers like Ford and Audi, as well as new entrants, projected that fully self-driving cars (Level 5) would be available by 2025, but that is not on track to be true. 

Level 2 vehicles are only about 15% of the market share today. This number is expected to rise to an impressive 60% by 2030, when Level 3 and Level 4 vehicles combined will only account for a market share of about 5%.

Meanwhile, the automotive industry will not develop a Level 5 vehicle until almost 2035, according to a GlobalData report: “We expect the timelines for deploying fully autonomous vehicles (Level 5) to be pushed back over the next few years.

“Companies that have made big bets on the technology will continue to move toward commercialisation, but it could be closer to 2035 before we begin to see any meaningful deployments of fully self-driving vehicles.”

(Image Source: This Is Money)

Future of Autonomous Vehicles

When Level 5 cars begin to hit the market, the automotive industry’s next step will be gaining consumers’ trust and confidence. Currently, 52% of people in the UK say they would not trust self-driving cars.

An increase in safety, a chance to test the autonomous driving function, the introduction of more regulations, and more information from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are just some factors that would increase consumer confidence in fully autonomous vehicles.

China will likely lead the autonomous vehicle market by 2040, with self-driving vehicles accounting for as much as 66% of the passenger kilometres travelled that year.