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.

Photo by metamorworks/Getty Images

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

Photo by 4X-Image/Getty Images

  • 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

Photo by Arthur Debat/Getty Images

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.

Trending News

 
 

The Roadster's specs are impressive, to say the least.

Tesla

Elon Musk took to a stage in late 2017 to announce a new product, the second-generation Tesla Roadster, and the numbers were impressive, even for a guy known to casually drop massive bombshells in 160 characters or less on Twitter. He pledged a 620-mile range and a 0-60 mph time in 1.9 seconds for the car – impressive specs, to be sure. When Musk unveiled the car, production was scheduled to commence some time in 2020, but as we all now know, last year wasn't a banner year for car manufacturing. In January, he pushed that date back to 2022, but the timeline has slipped again - into 2023 at this point - and that's only if everything goes smoothly between now and then.


Tesla Roadster Supply chain issues have caused delays in the Roadster's release.Tesla


Responding to a tweet on Wednesday, Musk stated that "assuming 2022 is not mega drama, new Roadster should ship in 2023." That's a pretty big asterisk, given how things have been going over the last 18 months. It's not surprising, though, and Musk acknowledges what we've known for some time now: The global supply chain is a mess, thanks to microchip shortages and pandemic-related closures and delays. "2021 has been the year of super crazy supply chain shortages," he said, admitting that "it wouldn't matter if we had 17 new products, as none would ship." Again, it's not surprising, but it is most likely frustrating for reservation holders, who've plopped down anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 to hold an order for the Roadster.




Tesla is far from being the only automaker to experience delays, but even if we assume that the rest of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 go smoothly, there's still a lot that can happen. All of Tesla's suppliers would have to get their ducks in a row and there can be no COVID-related production delays. That would also peg 2022 as one of the automaker's flagship years for product releases, with both the Semi and Cybertruck on the schedule. It's possible, but far from guaranteed, that all of those pieces fall into place, making Tesla's 2022 a banner year. As for the Roadster, 2023 could be the year that we're all blown away by its range and acceleration, but recent history suggests that anything can happen at any time, so we won't be holding our breath.

Trending News

 
 

New sports car

The Acura Integra is coming back in 2022

This is all we know about the new Integra's styling.

Acura

Secrets are hard to keep these days. It seems like new products always end up being leaked by one of the hundreds of people involved in the development process, to the point that even the most secretive companies have a hard time unveiling a product that people don't already know about. That wasn't the case this week, though. After announcing the final version of its NSX supercar at Monterey Car Week, Acura took to the skies with an impressive drone show that eventually spelled out a message no one expected to see: The Integra is coming back in 2022.



The original car launched in 1986, and its legend grew over time. After accumulating dozens of awards and spawning an entire industry around customizing and enhancing the Integra, Honda and Acura discontinued the car in 2001. We saw a successor to the crown in the Acura RSX for a few short years afterward, but it's been 15 years since a small, tossable sports car has graced the Acura catalog. Granted, Honda has been on a tear with the Civic Si and Civic Type-R, but there has been a hole in the Acura lineup for some time now.


Acura Integra The original Integra is the stuff of legend.Acura


Waiting is the hardest part, as they say. Other than the gorgeous drone display and tantalizingly mysterious teaser photo, we know nothing, which is a difficult spot to be as a car enthusiast. There are a few details, though. The car will return in 2022 as a "compact premium entrant," according to the press release. Company VP and Acura Brand Officer Jon Ikeda also said that the car is "returning to the Acura lineup with the same fun-to-drive spirit and DNA of the original, fulfilling our commitment to Precision Crafted Performance in every way – design, performance and the overall driving experience."

Given parent company Honda's success with performance versions of the Civic, we're optimistic that the 2022 Integra will put its compact dimensions to good use on the road and on the track. We'll have to be patient, though, because official details won't become available until closer to the car's introduction in 2022.


2022 Acura Integra Acura shared the new Integra's logo.Acura

Trending News