Mercedes-Benz has revealed its plans to bring a cutting-edge level of autonomous driving to its American customers in the latter half of 2023. The German automaker announced this news on Thursday. The company’s Drive Pilot system is designed with Level 3 autonomous driving capabilities based on the standards set by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
This exciting feature will be available as an option for the 2024 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQs Sedan models, however, the company has not disclosed a US price point. According to Auto News Europe, in Germany the system costs $5,300 on the S-Class and approximately $8,000 on the EQS model.
What sets Level 3 autonomous driving apart from its Level 2 counterpart is that it requires less input from the driver. While Level 2 requires constant supervision, Level 3 offers drivers a greater degree of flexibility. The SAE defines Level 3 as a system where the user is not driving even though they are seated in the driver’s seat, when automated driving features are engaged. This means that drivers have the freedom to move their head and eyes away from the road to interact with passengers or watch a movie, as seen during a demo test by The Drive, an automotive news outlet.
It’s worth noting that a Level 3 system still mandates a driver’s ability to regain control of the vehicle at any moment. This implies that drivers cannot fall asleep or obstruct their face while the vehicle is moving. The Drive’s test driver demonstrated this by putting a camera in front of his face, causing the Mercedes EQS’s autonomous driving system to disengage.
Additionally, the system is limited to specific road conditions and the Drive Pilot feature will only allow vehicles to reach speeds of up to 40 mph. Despite these restrictions, by aiming to introduce a Level 3 autonomous system to its Nevada customers by 2023, Mercedes-Benz is ahead of major electric vehicle competitors in the US such as Tesla, Ford, and GM.
While Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been promising “Full Self-Driving” features since 2015, its rollout has faced delays and criticism from various quarters including lawmakers, safety experts, and customers. Some critics have even accused the company of misleading its customers by calling its semi-autonomous driving system “Full Self-Driving.” In November, Tesla expanded the “Full Self-Driving Beta” to all North American customers, however, the system is still rated at Level 2 and requires full driver attention. The feature received negative media attention almost immediately, with reports of a Tesla Model S in “Full Self-Driving” mode causing an eight-car pileup in the San Francisco Bay Area in the same month. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has investigated 35 crashes since 2016, in which Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” or “Autopilot” system was in use, resulting in 19 deaths, according to The Intercept.
Mercedes-Benz stated in its announcement that its technology complies with Nevada state regulations, implying that the autonomous system will only be available for customers based in Nevada. A spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, Kevin Malone, stated that the state allows all automation levels to operate on public streets and that they do not issue any permit or license based on an autonomous vehicle’s level of automation. He added that Mercedes completed self-certification “out of an abundance of caution.” Mercedes-Benz has also filed certification documents in California.
Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, and SAE spokespersons did not respond to a request for comment.