A few carmakers already have systems that allow some aspects of an autonomous driving experience. None of those systems are designed, in theory, for true “Look, Ma, no hands!” driving. But they are a stepping-stone technology.

Tesla’s Auto Pilot lets the car drive without human input on highways with clearly defined lane markings. Once Auto Pilot is engaged, the car steers itself to keep within the lane. It even brings itself to a stop and can resume driving in stop-and-go traffic. If you hit the turn signal stalk, the car will change lanes for you, if the system determines the maneuver is safe.



Mercedes’ Distronic Plus with Steering Assist will pilot the car down the freeway but will disengage if it senses your hands haven’t been on the steering wheel for more than 15 seconds. Tesla warns Auto Pilot is not meant to be hands-free, but keeping your hands off the wheel doesn’t actually disengage the system. Same with the Infiniti Q50, although the company is adamant that its Active Lane Control was designed to help you stay in your lane on the highway, not to do all of the steering for you.

Volvo has a forthcoming system called Pilot Assist II that will debut on the 2017 S90 sedan, allowing the car to accelerate, brake, and steer itself up to 80 mph, as well as come to a complete stop—although at least one hand must be on the steering wheel at all times.

Cadillac’s all-new CT6 sedan will have a system called Super Cruise available in 2017 that’s meant for truly hands-free operation on highways. But you can’t just zone out.

“At this point in time the technology is not good enough for you to not pay attention,” says John Capp, GM’s director of global vehicle safety. The system will monitor not only the behavior of the vehicle but also the driver’s face and eyes for attentiveness.

Both Nissan and Ford are working on autonomous drive systems that will operate in slow-moving traffic situations, taking over steering, throttle, and braking during city driving and traffic jams to save you from accidents. Honda is looking to have a freeway-only self-driving system in place by 2020.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the May 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.