Mercedes-Benz becomes the first automaker to sell Level 3 self-driving vehicles in California


According to Reuters, Mercedes-Benz has become the first automaker to receive approval from California regulators to sell or lease vehicles equipped with Level 3 self-driving technology. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has granted a permit for Mercedes-Benz’s Drive Pilot system, with the condition that it is used under specific circumstances and on designated roads. This certification adds to the similar approval the company previously obtained in Nevada.

The Drive Pilot system enables Mercedes-Benz drivers to disengage from steering and divert their attention away from the road, allowing them to engage in non-driving activities such as watching videos or texting. However, it is crucial to adhere to the stipulated usage rules. In the event of an accident, Mercedes-Benz, rather than the driver, will bear legal responsibility, provided the system is used within the prescribed guidelines.

The Drive Pilot system relies on various sensors placed throughout the vehicle, including visual cameras, LiDAR arrays, radar/ultrasound sensors, and audio microphones. These components work in tandem to monitor the surroundings and detect emergency vehicles by utilizing sensor and GPS data to accurately determine the vehicle’s location on the road.

While the Drive Pilot system is not as advanced as the self-driving systems found in Waymo and Cruise vehicles, which operate without the presence of a human driver, it represents a step beyond Tesla’s Full Self-Driving system, classified as a Level 2 system. Unlike Tesla’s system, Drive Pilot permits drivers to remove their hands from the wheel under specific conditions but requires them to remain attentive and ready to resume control at all times.

The utilization of the Drive Pilot system is limited to high-traffic situations during daylight hours, with speeds below 40 MPH. Furthermore, the driver must be available to regain control, preventing the possibility of reclining in the back seat and sleeping, for example. To ensure compliance, the vehicle includes an in-car monitor that tracks the driver’s engagement, and if the vehicle exceeds 40 MPH, encounters an emergency vehicle, encounters rain, or faces other situations beyond the capabilities of Drive Pilot, the driver must take over control.

Mercedes-Benz plans to introduce the Drive Pilot system in the 2024 S-Class and EQS Sedan models, with deliveries scheduled for later this year. Engadget had the opportunity to test the system at Mercedes-Benz’s test track in Germany and observe its performance on roads in Los Angeles. According to Engadget contributor Roberto Baldwin, while the system operated as intended, it was challenging to mentally disengage from the act of driving while behind the wheel.