The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defined five different levels for self-driving cars, ranging from complete driver control to complete autonomy. Here's a primer. :

Between the buzz over self-driving cars at CES 2016 and the Obama administration's announcement to invest almost $4 billion in autonomous vehicle research over the next 10 years, the race to create the best self-driving car has never been hotter.

And, the rise of self-driving cars is going to have a major impact on businesses and professionals. Automated vehicles could replace corporate fleets for deliveries or transporting employees, for example. And workers could gain productive hours in the day by working instead of driving during daily commutes. It is also poised to completely change the car insurance industry by reducing accidents—a new report predicts that accidents will drop by 80% by 2040.

But, what does "autonomous driving" really mean? In 2013, the US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defined five different levels of autonomous driving. And on January 15, the NHTSA updated their policy to reflect that "the widespread deployment of fully-autonomous vehicles is now feasible," According to the document, the NHTSA will provide "best-practice guidance to industry on establishing principles of safe operation for fully-autonomous vehicles"—in other words, vehicles at level 4—in the next six months.

SEE: Self-driving cars won the week at CES 2016, with AI and big data the unsung heroes

The NHTSA is "working to transform government for the 21st century, harnessing innovation and technology that will improve people's lives," according to a representative. "This is an area of rapid change, which requires the DOT and NHTSA to remain flexible and adaptable as new information and technologies emerge. Amid that rapid change, the North Star for DOT and NHTSA remains safety."

Here's what you need to know about levels 0-5 (...)

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