Self-Driving

Here's how to find out if autonomous vehicles are being tested in your town

In the future, vehicles will be connected via a number of technologies designed to remove the burden of driving for owners.

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No matter what you've heard from various automakers, there's currently no such thing as a self-driving car. There, now that the big letdown's out of the way, we can talk about what is happening right now. Tesla, Cadillac, and others offer systems that will take charge and pilot a vehicle down the highway in very limited circumstances. Tesla's Autopilot and Cadillac's Super Cruise may someday become autonomous systems, but today offer quite limited functionality in the grand scheme of things.

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) will become more common over time, as the technology and regulations catch up to engineers' imaginations, which will require testing. Most states have created some degree of legislation on AVs, but the level to which they regulate the industry is all over the map. Let's take a closer look at AV testing and what's involved with the process.

What are the levels of automation?

What do we mean when we say, "level of automation?" Well, it turns out that autonomous vehicles aren't a monolithic group. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has created a six-level system (including zero) for designating the level of automation that a vehicle is capable of.

  • Level 0 - A vehicle rated at Level zero is one in which the driver is always in control. There may be support features, such as blind spot monitoring, but their interventions are brief.
autonomous vehicle sitting in traffic in China

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  • Level 1 - Vehicles carrying Level 1 autonomous tech are capable of providing steering, braking, or acceleration support to the driver. These systems can include features like adaptive cruise control or lane centering. Level 1 vehicles are capable of providing steering or braking support for the driver, not both.
  • Level 2 - Cars that are designated as Level 2 are similar to Level 1 cars, with the big distinction being that they can provide steering and brake or acceleration support simultaneously. This would mean that both lane centering and adaptive cruise control work together.
  • Level 3 - Cars that are equipped with SAE Level 3 technology are capable of piloting themselves under extremely limited conditions and may require driver input in certain situations. Examples of this tech can include features like traffic jam assist systems.
  • Level 4 - When a car is designated as being Level 4, it can operate itself in the same limited conditions that a level 3 car can, but will not require the driver to step in and assume control. These vehicles may include autonomous taxis or buses that operate in a designated area.
  • Level 5 - Level 5 vehicles are similar to Level 4 vehicles, but can drive "everywhere in all conditions," according to the SAE. It's worth noting that there are no Level 5 vehicles on the road today, other than what's being tested.

Looking at those levels, it's easy to see where we are today. Tesla's Autopilot and Cadillac's Super Cruise are both Level 2 technologies. They can both provide limited support, but can't pilot the vehicles without driver input – regardless of what you see in the news.

Autonomous vehicle testing in the United States

rendering of a self-driving vehicle

Photo by Sergii Iaremenko/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

The truth is that, depending on where you live, the laws may be altogether nonexistent, but there are quite a few states that have made moves toward regulating autonomous vehicles. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 38 states have taken some action on autonomous vehicles. The levels of regulation vary from place to place, but common themes emerge.

Many states have authorized AV testing, but require that a human be present, while others have only authorized a study on AVs, or on how AVs might perform. Others take a more nuanced approach, allowing deployment of AVs for testing, but varying the level of human involvement required based on the level of vehicle automation.

So far:

  • 28 states have authorized some level of testing or deployment
    • 18 of them allow deployment or testing without a human
  • 4 states have issued regulation on truck platooning

Truck platooning refers to the practice of having a human-driven lead truck that is followed by one or more autonomous trucks. The lead truck controls braking and acceleration for all trucks, and the resulting aerodynamic improvements help save fuel.

What sort of documentation is required?

The states that allow AV testing each have different requirements for what they allow on their roadways. In general, though, there are fees and annual reporting schedules.

California, for instance, requires a $3,275 fee to accompany its AV testing application. The applications must also be accompanied by extensive documentation on how, when, and where an AV will be tested. California's paperwork asks that the applicant to carefully describe the conditions and locations where the AV is designed to operate.

It's important to track and monitor problems that occur with AV prototypes during testing, especially if there is a collision or another type of accident. Some states allow the ability to review these data points on their websites. A large portion of these reports cover minor damage due to a fender-bender or related accident. Not all of these incidents are caused by AVs.

Are there autonomous vehicles testing near you?

autonomous vehicle driving on a rural road

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You may be surprised to find out where and how many AVs are testing in the U.S. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers a tracking tool that allows the general public to keep track of the prototype projects. Results can eb filtered by state and company then are listed according to testing sites by road and vehicle type. Sometimes, photos accompany the information so you'll know what to look out for while you're driving.

The tracking tool also allows you to see the laws and regulations governing AV testing in each state as well as related inflation regarding each company that has filed paperwork to test AVs.

Tesla and Full-Self Driving

Tesla's Autopilot technology is designed to assist with traditional driving tasks like staying in a lane and making sure there's no one in your blind spot. It's a hands-on technology that is frequently misused by Tesla vehicle drivers.

Tesla 2016 steering wheel and screen

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Autonomous Tesla tech has long been promised by the automaker. Currently a Full-Self Driving (FSD) package is available for a $10,000 charge. That fee does not include the ability for a Tesla to autonomously drive itself. Instead, it includes an upgraded suite of driver assist and parking features.

Navigate on Autopilot is designed to be used on the highway and assists with funcitons including lane change and exiting. Similar technology exists in Mercedes vehicles. There's also automatic parallel and perpendicular parking (similar to advanced park assist in many other vehicles) and Smart Summon, which can have your vehicle come to your location from its place within a parking lot or parking garage. Traffic light stop assist and stop sign recognition are also offered.

Tesla says that all its cars currently have the technology required to be able to drive autonomously, but that it's not enabled, even if the buyer has paid 10 grand for it.

A beta software test of a more advanced driver assist technology called "City Streets" or "Navigate on City Streets" was recently offered to a select group of Tesla owners. Those who opted in to this unregulated group are currently using a glitch-prone version of the program on streets across the U.S. Despite being more advanced, this technology is not hands-free.

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The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder arrives on dealer lots this summer.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder doesn't have to be capable of rock crawling or deep water fording. What it has to do is service the needs of families in their daily life and give them the opportunity to competently go off-roading on rocky trails should they desire. The new, fifth-generation models does just that and adds in enough nifty features to make it among the most compelling choices for three-row SUV buyers.

The 2022 Pathfinder is thoroughly modern though not the boxy off-roader it once was. The SUV's styling harkens back to that time with a tilted, darkened C-pillar and a return to a more muscular body style. That styling makes straightforward visibility good but for shorter drivers seeing what is immediately in front of the grille is a challenge that necessitates using surround view camera technology (available only in upper trim levels) when navigating challenging terrain.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The Pathfinder can easily handle the roads less traveled.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6 that offers up 291 horsepower and torque - plenty to do the job without complaint. The SUV's nine-speed automatic transmission replaces the continuously variable transmission (CVT) from the previous generation and delivers smooth shifts. Though low-end torque isn't as robust as I like it to be, once up over 35 mph, the Pathfinder's powertrain delivers smooth, powerful sailing.

The redesigned architecture and components underpinning the Pathfinder make it stable on the road and don't allow it to wallow on winding roads. Even off-road, the suspension provides the right blend of stability while the drive dynamics allowing the driver to feel engaged with their surroundings whether on freshly paved roads, city streets, or muddy trails.

Nissan has given the Pathfinder a 6,000-pound towing capacity and even when maxed out the engine's functionality is strong as ever. The transmission can get held up in a gear mid-range when performing this function, however, with 5,000-6,000 rpms registering on the tachometer but a quick release of the gas pedal recalibrates the offering bringing it down to a more traditional 2,000 rpm range.

The eight-seater Pathfinder clearly has the Toyota Highlander in its sights, with good reason. It's the top-selling three-row SUV in the country. Nissan boasts that three adults can fit across the rear bench seat of the Pathfinder and, as long as they're average size or smaller, the marketing talking point holds up. There is gobs more room back there than there is in the Highlander.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Nissan has given the Pathfinder ample cargo space.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Getting in and out of the third row is easy thanks to one-touch buttons on the outboard side of the second-row chairs that move the SUV's captain's seats forward creating enough room to get through to the back. Smartly, Nissan's engineers have put duplicates of these buttons on the back side of the same seats allowing third-row passengers to simply press the button to move the seat up.

The third row can also be accessed via a split between the captain's chairs as well, a space traditionally occupied by a center stowage bin/cup holders/arm rest. Owners can quickly remove the center console by opening a panel on the front and pulling the release mechanism. The one-handed operation takes seconds and the console can be easily stored in the under-floor trunk space behind the third row seat for ease.

Speaking of cargo space... The Pathfinder is one of the most spacious midsize SUVs on the market today for both passengers and cargo. There is a substantial amount of room behind the third-row seat and the under-floor storage area is nearly twice the size of the one in the Highlander. Plus, it has a feature that allows the area cover to be automatically propped up when pushed up by a user. This is especially help when carrying groceries or plants home and keeps them from being crushed.

The first- and second-row seats are suitably comfortable, even for extended periods of time and standard trig-zone climate control makes finding the right in-cabin mix easy. Bottle holders in the pockets of the front doors are exceptionally large, fitting even bulky water bottles.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The Pathfinder's front row seats are comfortable.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

In front of the driver is a standard tachometer, speedometer, and 7.0-inch driver information display. Buyers can upgrade to a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster and head-up display but they're not reason enough to upgrade to the top-tier Pathfinder Platinum on their own.

Nissan packs the new Pathfinder with a host of desirable features that make living with the Pathfinder easier including one-touch auto up/down windows, a wireless phone charger, grocery hooks in the rear cargo area, USB ports in all three rows, second-row sunshades, rear door keyless entry, wireless Apple CarPlay, and a motion-activated lift gate.

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is priced to start at $33,410 for the two-wheel drive S base model and $35,310 for the four-wheel drive S base model. The model tops out around $50,000 with destination and delivery included, which seems fair when comparing the Pathfinder to other vehicles in the market.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The Pathfinder can tow up to 6,000 pounds.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

If you're thinking of purchasing a Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Honda Pilot, or Highlander, do yourself a favor and schedule a test drive of the new Pathfinder when it arrives at a dealer lot near you. You may just be surprised how seamlessly it fits into your daily life compared to the competition.

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The F-Type P450 cars replace the P300 and P380 as part of the Jaguar lineup.

Photo courtesy of Jaguar

Two new versions of the Jaguar F-Type are on the horizon. New versions of the model have been created to further the car's luxury proposition and both are powered by a roaring V8 engine. The new P450 variants replace the P300 and P380 models currently in the lineup. Jaguar is keeping the F-Type R around.

2022 Jaguar F-Type P450

The 2022 Jaguar F-Type P450 will be available as a coupe or convertible in P450 RWD or P450 R-DYNAMIC AWD grades. All varieties come with a 444-horsepower supercharged V8 under the hood that achieves 428 pound-feet of torque. An electronic active differential is standard. In all configurations, the car gets from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and has a top speed of 177 mph.

2022 Jaguar F-Type P450 The car has received minor exterior updates from the 2021 model.Photo courtesy of Jaguar

In a nod to its suburban buyers, the F-Type has a Quiet Star mode that allows a more subtle roar out the back side of the car upon startup. Drivers who don't care about keeping quiet can switch the car in to Dynamic mode and let the rumble out.

Each F-Type P450 rides on 20-inch wheels, has larger brakes than traditional F-Type models, and has the switchable exhaust. Double J-Blade daytime running lights feature up front while new slender rear lights allow the body of the car to speak for itself.

Buyers who get the F-Type P450 R-Dynamic AWD get bespoke badging; a gloss black front splitter, side sills, valance, and venturi; auto-dimming, power- folding, heated door mirrors with memory; and 20-inch Style 6003, split-spoke, gloss Dark Grey with Contrast Diamond Turned Finish Wheels.

2022 Jaguar F-Type P450 The interior sports a refined appearance.Photo courtesy of Jaguar

Monogram stitch patterns on the car's seats and interior accents in Windsor Leather and satin-finish Noble Chrome enhance the interior. Additionally, there are "Jaguar Est.1935" markings on the center console finisher, glovebox release button surround, and seatbelt guides. Six-way electric power seats are standard on F-Type P450 RWD, while F-Type P450 R-Dynamic AWD adds 12-way electric memory front seats, electrically adjustable steering column with memory, Delta Aluminum Center Console, and R-Dynamic branded metal treadplates as standard equipment.

A 12.3-inch driver information display is standard.

F-Type P450 is available in 11 standard exterior colors, and can be ordered in over a dozen custom SVO paint finishes. It starts at $69,900 for the P450 RWD Coupe and $79,900 for the R450 R-Dynamic AWD Coupe.

2022 Jaguar F-Type R

The F-Type R is the pinnacle of the Jaguar lineup with torque on-demand all-wheel drive, Jaguar Intelligent Driveline Dynamics control technology, a double wishbone front and rear suspension, and electric power-assisted steering.

It can get from zero to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and has an electronically limited top speed of 186 mph thanks to its 575-horsepower supercharged V8 engine. All-wheel drive is standard.

This model starts at $103,200.

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