Autonomous driving at level 3: Mercedes starts selling “Drive Pilot”

Mercedes can boast that it has a lead over all its competitors: the brand is the first manufacturer ever to offer Level 3 autonomous driving in two cars. BMW and Audi are only preparing something similar, other companies are not ready yet. The system is not cheap: In the Mercedes S-Class it costs 5950 euros, as the group announced. With the Mercedes EQS (test), 8842 euros are due because a driver assistance package still has to be booked. The system, dubbed “Drive Pilot”, can be ordered from May 17th.

So far, driver assistance systems have been used in cars, which can relieve the driver of various tasks such as staying in lane or maintaining a safe distance. However, people remain responsible and must keep their hands on the wheel. Autonomous driving at level 3 means that the driver can temporarily hand over responsibility in a precisely described scenario. He does not have to constantly monitor what is happening on the road, but he does have to be able to intervene if the computer is overwhelmed by the situation.

The insurers in particular had insisted that the period of time before the driver took over the vehicle should not be too short. Studies by the insurers’ accident research institute (UDV) have shown that distracted drivers need up to 10 seconds to take over and up to 15 seconds to take full control of a traffic situation. “For the users of automated driving systems, it must therefore be clear at all times what the system is doing and to what extent the driver can devote himself to other things,” says Anja Käfer-Rohrbach, Deputy General Manager of the General Association of the German Insurance Industry.

Level 3 means: The driver can devote himself to other things in a scenario, but must ensure that he can intervene within 10 seconds.

(Image: VDA)

The “Drive Pilot” from Mercedes is limited to very specific situations with numerous legal requirements. It only works on motorways, at speeds of up to 60 km/h and only as long as the distance to the vehicle in front is not too great. If the system recognizes that the requirements are met, it can be activated by the driver. While Drive Pilot steers the car, responsibility lies with Mercedes. When the system asks the driver to take control again, they have up to 10 seconds to do so.

There are other restrictions. “Drive Pilot” should drive on construction sites. However, Mercedes initially dispenses with this in view of the additional complexity. According to legal requirements, a car in automatic mode must stay in its lane. If, for example, a lane change is necessary at a motorway junction, the car has to hand over control to the driver. The responsible Mercedes Vice President Georges Massing assumes that the legal leeway will be expanded if the systems prove themselves in everyday life and create trust: “The market and all corners will put pressure on the system so that you get more freedom .”

Insurers see two aspects worth considering from their perspective. In terms of road safety, it is to be welcomed that automated driving at level 3 is only used on motorways up to 60 km/h – i.e. without having to take pedestrians, cyclists, oncoming traffic or crossing traffic into account. “Current law has a simple and clear answer to the question of who compensates accident victims: that’s what the owner’s motor vehicle liability insurance does,” says Käfer-Rohrbach. This also contributes to the social acceptance of automated cars. At the same time, this regulation is not a free pass for car manufacturers or suppliers: “Anyone who brings defective systems onto the market has to answer within the framework of the applicable laws. The motor vehicle insurers would examine and enforce corresponding product liability claims,” ​​she emphasizes.

On the other hand, in the long term, insurers expect automated driving to reduce costs overall, even if repair costs increase. “The bottom line is that the new systems will reduce the number of accidents by 13 to 19 percent by 2040, and the compensation paid by motor vehicle insurers by only around 12 percent,” says Käfer-Rohrbach.


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