System and method for behavior based control of an autonomous vehicle. Actuators (e.g., linkages) manipulate input devices (e.g., articulation controls and drive controls, such as a throttle lever, steering gear, tie rods, throttle, brake, accelerator, or transmission shifter) to direct the operation of the vehicle. Behaviors that characterize the operational mode of the vehicle are associated with the actuators. The behaviors include action sets ranked by priority, and the action sets include alternative actions that the vehicle can take to accomplish its task. The alternative actions are ranked by preference, and an arbiter selects the action to be performed and, optionally, modified.