Mercedes' new Drive Pilot system, which helps pilot cars – including the all-electric EQS sedan – has already been approved for use on all German highways. However, the technology only works on select highways, and at speeds below 40 mph. That said, in areas where it's approved to function, it will handle the car's acceleration, steering, and braking.
The German automaker plans to launch Drive Pilot in some areas of the US before the end of the year. It's reportedly a Level 3 system, which will require approval. According to a recent article published by Road & Track, Mercedes Drive Pilot senior development manager Gregor Kugelmann shared:
"By the end of last year, we were the first [automaker] to get international certification for a Level 3 system. We're aiming to get that for California and Nevada by the end of this year, and we're checking a lot of other states as well."
While there are many vehicles on the road today with similar technology, Mercedes' tech is more robust, and it seems the automaker trusts its system enough to take full legal responsibility while it's engaged. Road & Track specifically states that once a driver turns on Drive Pilot, they are "no longer legally liable for the car's operation until it disengages." The publication goes so far as to say that a driver could actually pay zero attention to the road ahead, play on their mobile phones, and even watch a movie. If the car were to crash, Mercedes would be 100 percent responsible.
Clearly, this opens a whole can of worms, and it will likely cause a very difficult situation for regulators, authorities, and insurance companies. The reason is that the driver isn't responsible "until it disengages." A situation like this can prove very tricky, and we've already seen proof of this in multiple cases involving Tesla's Autopilot.
Like Tesla, Mercedes will most certainly have logs associated with the technology's use and disengagements. Otherwise, there would really be no way for authorities and insurance companies to find fault. However, if a driver becomes fully responsible once the system disengages, but in the meantime, they can watch movies, play games, or even "zone out," what happens when the car disengages and they aren't paying enough attention and/or aren't ready to take over?
The US doesn't really have federal regulations for autonomous driving systems. At this point, states are basically free to make their own rules. Obviously, there will have to be very clear rules pertaining to how fault is officially determined, in addition to what behavior is acceptable for the driver behind the wheel.
A system can be designed in such a way that if there's an imminent issue, it disengages. However, if that was the case, the system would essentially never be at fault. In regard to the future rules and regulations, Mercedes' vice president of automated driving George Massing told the publication:
"I would expect that, here in the United States, some other states may adopt the rules that will be applied by pioneer states like California and Nevada. And then, they'd have maybe two or three specific rules included in their region. But we will probably have to deal with each individual state because of the way you guys are organized as a country."
With all of that said, all current systems are still considered Level 2 technology (Tesla Autopilot, GM Super Cruise, Ford BlueCruise), meaning the driver is still responsible. The fact that Mercedes' Drive Pilot is a Level 3 system is what may allow the new rules.
Road & Track makes it very clear that the Drive Pilot system can only be engaged on specific roads at lower speeds. Owners must be traveling during the day in good weather on an approved divided highway with no stoplights or other traffic control systems.
We'll obviously have to wait and see how this all plays out. As Mercedes works with US states and gets closer to officially launching the system on our shores, there will likely be many more details. In the meantime, share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.