We've heard a lot about self-driving cars over the past few years. Every manufacturer believed the technology was imminent toward the end of the last decade. Elon Musk and Tesla have been selling a feature called "full self-driving" for years now, and continually promising that full autonomy and robotaxis are just around the corner. But nothing has been approved for customer use on American roads — until now.
Mercedes-Benz announced at CES 2023 that it had received approval from Nevada to use its Drive Pilot system — a Level 3 automated driving system — on public roads. The certificate of compliance is expected within the next two weeks. The brand is also "optimistic" that the technology will receive approval in California.
Level 3 is the lowest level the SAE designates as automated driving. At Level 3, the system operates without driver monitoring in certain situations, but can still require the driver to retake control. GM's Super Cruise and Tesla's Autopilot are classified as Level 2 systems, providing steering and braking/acceleration assistance but still requiring constant driver monitoring.
Drive Pilot may be more significant as a technical milestone than as a feature Mercedes-Benz owners are apt to use regularly to start. The system is basically a traffic jam assist that drivers can use on mapped, congested highways at speeds of 37 mph or less (at least initially).
Several manufacturers had — until recently — been looking to skip over Level 3 and focus on Level 4. Level 3 makes sense on paper. But in practice, it's not clear how the driver could not be paying attention but be ready to spring back into action at a moment's notice. And Level 3 technology is not a natural stepping stone to Level 4 technology, which is more ground-breaking and potentially lucrative.