Good news for anyone shopping around for a new Mercedes-Benz EQS and S-Class: you'll soon be able to equip your new luxurious land yacht with the very first true Level 3 automated driving feature in the nation.
Mercedes calls its conditional driver automation system Drive Pilot, and it's the first of its kind certified to operate in the U.S., beating out both Honda and Tesla's similarly-capable software. The German automaker has been working to receive approval for this feature from regulatory bodies in several states to ensure that its rollout is not only seamless, but backed by the agencies that regulate cars with autonomous capabilities. And now, it's slated to be debuted to the public later this year.
Regulators in both California and Nevada have officially signed off on Drive Pilot being used on streets within their respective states. In both cases, the systems will operate with Level 3 capabilities so as long as the car is driving under 40 MPH, "on suitable freeway sections and during high traffic density," per a Mercedes-Benz press release.
What is Level 3 automated driving, anyway? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, this type of system "handles all aspects of the driving task while the driver remains available to take over driving if requested." That means the car is actually driving, leaving the person who occupies the passenger seat free to text, watch YouTube, or read a book—anything short of nap, as long as they can take over should the car request it.
Simply put, if you happen to drive frequently on some of America's most congested highways in either state (looking at you, Interstate 405), Drive Pilot all but promises to lower your blood pressure. If you're skeptical, we took Drive Pilot for a spin last year and were fairly impressed with what we found.
It's important to remember that Level 3 is conditional automation, meaning that the car must be driven within its operation design domain (that is, the specific conditions in which it is built to run). Otherwise, the car will request that the human in the driver's seat take back control. If the road is wet, the car detects an emergency vehicle, or if it must drive faster than 40 MPH, it will alert the driver that it needs to hand over the reins.
Drive Pilot is technically already available in both the EQS and S-Class, but only if you live in Germany. In the U.S., the laws governing the operation of AVs and vehicles with conditionally automated features (like Drive Pilot) are very fragmented since each state governs vehicles in its own way. This is why Mercedes sought out permission from regulators in California and Nevada before releasing the feature to the public. In fact, some cities would like to regulate these features even further, though they are often preempted by state law. That said, Drive Pilot will be the first Level 3 automated driving feature available in a car on a U.S. dealer lot that anyone can buy.
Officially, Mercedes says that Drive Pilot will debut on a fleet of EQS sedans later this year. However, it will begin customer delivery of model year 2024 cars with the feature beginning in early 2024.
On a more sour note, Drive Pilot will be subscription-based. Mercedes will charge $2,500 for the first year, which is about the same cost as Tesla's Full Self-Driving subscription (the difference being that Drive Pilot is actually offering a Level 3 system). The automaker says it will offer additional options that will be announced at a later date.
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