Understanding connected and automated vehicles

Connected and automated vehicles could significantly change our transportation system. Learn about connected and automated vehicles, and why we support their testing and use in Canada.

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What is a connected vehicle?

Connected vehicles use different types of wireless technology to communicate with their surroundings. Although the technology can differ between vehicles, most new vehicles sold today have some version of connectivity.

Depending on the features it has installed, a connected vehicle may be able to communicate with:

  • its driver and passengers
  • roadside assistance services
  • convenience and entertainment apps
  • nearby transportation infrastructure like:
    • toll booths
    • roadways
    • traffic lights
  • other vehicles and road users

There are many practical uses for connected vehicles. This technology can give the driver and passengers information, provide convenient functions like roadside assistance, and diagnose vehicle issues. Different features may also support navigation, and can recommend nearby restaurants, attractions and entertainment.

Other technologies that are slowly entering the market can improve the efficiency and safety of the transportation system. This includes vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) technologies that can alert drivers of upcoming hazards or provide other useful information.

For example, these technologies could:

  • provide warnings about icy road conditions or a traffic accident ahead
  • alert a driver when a vehicle in front brakes suddenly
  • notify drivers when a traffic light is about to turn red

In the future, it’s possible that connected vehicles may eventually allow automated vehicles to coordinate their movements more efficiently on the road and improve the flow of traffic.

Learn more about the ITS Architecture for Canada, which supports connected vehicle technology

What is an automated vehicle?

An automated vehicle uses a combination of sensors, controllers, onboard computers and software to help the vehicle control at least some driving functions instead of a human driver. Some of the functions that automated vehicles can control are:

  • steering
  • braking and acceleration
  • monitoring the driving environment

Levels of vehicle automation

SAE International, a technical standards organization, defines 6 levels of vehicle automation, ranging from 0 to 5. Governments and industry around the world use these levels to describe different vehicle abilities.

The  illustration below shows what each level means for you as a driver.

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Levels of driving automation

Level 0

No automation: The human driver performs all aspects of the driving task

Level 1

Driver assistance: The vehicle's driver assistance features support the driver with either steering or acceleration/deceleration under specific conditions. The human driver is expected to perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving tasks, including monitoring and responding to the driving environment.

Level 2

Partial automation: The vehicle's driver assistance features support the driver with both steering and acceleration/deceleration under specific conditions. The human driver is still expected to perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving tasks, including monitoring and responding to the driving environment.

Level 3

Conditional automation: The vehicle's automated driving system (ADS) features perform all aspects of the dynamic driving task, including monitoring and responding to the driving environment, under specific conditions. The human driver must be alert and ready to perform the dynamic driving task when the system requests the human driver to intervene.

Level 4

High automation: The ADS-equipped vehicle performs all aspects of the dynamic driving task, including monitoring and responding to the driving environment, under specific conditions. The vehicle is designed to respond safely without human action to all situations, including when it reaches the limits of its operating environment.

Level 5

Full automation: The ADS-equipped vehicle performs all aspects of the dynamic driving task, including monitoring and responding to the driving environment, in all conditions.


Types of automation

Many of today’s vehicles already have driver assistance technologies that use lower levels of automation ranging from level 0 to 2. This includes features like:

Important safety information

These technologies can only help you with some parts of driving. When using these features, you are still responsible for safely operating the vehicle. You must stay alert and focused on driving at all times even when these systems are engaged.

These features:

  • can only be used in specific situations
  • may not work well (or at all) in bad weather like rain and snow, and in some types of road infrastructure like tunnels

Learn more about the driver assistance technologies available on the market today

When will vehicles with higher automation be available in Canada?

Highly connected and automated (levels 3 to 5) are not currently available for public purchase. Many experts believe that it will take years, or decades, before highly (level 4) or fully (level 5) automated vehicles are used by Canadians in their everyday lives.

Testing of highly connected and automated vehicles is currently underway by researchers and developers to promote their safety. Canada’s federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments are also supporting the development and testing of these technologies. Learn more about how these technologies are being tested in Canada.

Before higher automation technologies are made available on the Canadian market, manufacturers will need to ensure that they address a number of safety considerations. Manufacturers are encouraged to capture each of these considerations in a safety assessment report that they submit to Transport Canada.

For more information, refer to Connected and automated vehicles safety: what you need to know.

Highly connected and automated vehicles are not currently available to the public.

What are the potential benefits of connected and automated vehicles?

We support the safe testing and development of connected and automated vehicles because we believe they can benefit the Canadian public. Here are some of the possible benefits: 

Safer roads

According to data from our National Collision Database, driver behaviour was a contributing factor in about 86% of collisions that caused death and injury in Canada.

Although vehicles that do not require a human driver are not yet commercially available in Canada, there have been many advances in vehicle technologies that are paving the way for fully connected and automated vehicles. Many driver assistance technologies that are available on the market today, like automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assistance, could help reduce the number and severity of crashes by:

  • giving drivers an early warning alert of a dangerous situation
  • applying emergency brakes when it detects danger
  • helping you make better decisions on the road

As better connectivity and higher levels of automation become available, we hope that these technologies will help reduce vehicle collisions and improve vehicle and road safety for all Canadians. 

Better accessibility

Automated vehicles could improve mobility for  Canadians, especially people who have limited access to transportation, including:

  • seniors
  • people with disabilities
  • rural communities
  • low-income families

These technologies could also give Canadians better access to transportation, including:

  • first and last mile public transit
    • This means helping you get from your other transit options, like the bus stop, rail line, metro or subway stations, to your final destination
  • better logistical and delivery services

Lower fuel use and fewer emissions

Connected and automated vehicles, along with transportation planning and environmental policies, could help reduce traffic jams. This in turn would lower fuel consumption and emissions.

We will continue to work closely with provinces and territories, municipalities, industry and other stakeholders to examine the potential environmental benefits of these technologies.

New business opportunities

Connected and automated vehicles could have major economic benefits. They could help us avoid expensive accidents, save fuel costs, increase productivity and create new jobs for Canadians.

Their production could also have a positive impact on various sectors of the Canadian economy, including:

  • transportation services
  • automotive manufacturing
  • digital technology
  • mining
  • farming
  • forestry
  • other sectors that rely on road transportation to deliver goods, materials and services

Personal privacy

Connected vehicles collect and use personal information in a variety of ways. On-board navigation systems (GPS) may record a vehicle’s location. When drivers or passengers sync their smartphones to a connected vehicle (like when using hands-free calling), the system may keep a record of calls, texts and other communications. Some connected vehicles even offer Wi-Fi hotspots that may record internet activity.

Connected vehicles that collect and store personal information must follow relevant privacy laws, including:

  • Canada’s privacy law for the private sector, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)
  • similar provincial laws
  • public sector privacy laws at the federal or provincial level

Refer to the Summary of privacy laws in Canada for more information.

Cyber security  

The cyber security of connected and automated vehicles is an emerging, complex issue. In Canada, cyber security for vehicles is a priority shared by all levels of government and industry. We recognize the need to protect digital information, and the services and systems supporting these new technologies, while also encouraging innovation and economic growth and prosperity.

Transport Canada is working with Canadian and international partners to better understand cyber security issues related to connected and automated vehicles. In collaboration with stakeholders, Transport Canada released Canada’s Vehicle Cyber Security Guidance (May 2020), which provides a set of technology neutral guiding principles to support industry in making sure that vehicles are cyber-safe for Canadians. In addition, Transport Canada works with a broad range of stakeholders to support cyber security research and testing, including through funding programs, such as Transport Canada’s Enhanced Road Safety Transfer Payment Program and the Program to Advance Connectivity and Automation in Transportation Systems (ACATS).  Moving forward, we will use this knowledge to make informed decisions, support our stakeholders and guard against threats. Our efforts follow the Government of Canada’s broader cyber security goals, as explained in our National Cyber Security Strategy.

Read more about Canada’s cyber security approach

Radio Spectrum

Connected and automated vehicles use sensors and other equipment to monitor their surroundings and communicate with other vehicles or infrastructure. They do this by sending and receiving messages through airwaves across the electromagnetic spectrum, more generally referred to as “spectrum.”

The radio spectrum is a limited resource. The Minister of Industry regulates the spectrum to make sure wireless messages from satellites, phones, vehicles, radios and other devices flow efficiently. You can learn more about Canada’s Spectrum Policy Framework here.

Find out more about radio spectrum


Policy makers and insurance stakeholders in Canada are studying how insurance can adapt to automated vehicle technologies. In Canada, insurance is governed by provincial and territorial governments, and there are many different public and private models in place. As insurance issues evolve, we will continue to follow international best practices and work with provinces and territories.

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