Mercedes-Benz’s Powerful Self-Driving System and the Challenges Ahead

 In Vehicle Safety

The self-driving future is approaching rapidly as Mercedes-Benz obtains approval to sell vehicles with a powerful self-driving system in Nevada and California. These cars take on most of the driving responsibility and accept the blame for any errors, creating waves in competitor boardrooms and courtrooms. However, questions linger for drivers like us.

The Society of Automotive Engineers has defined six levels of driving automation, with car manufacturers offering Level 1 automation as a standard. Level 2 automation, like Tesla’s Auto Pilot, can perform advanced driving tasks but still requires human monitoring. Tesla faced issues when a Model X using Auto Pilot crashed, leading to debates over system reliability and driver responsibility.

Mercedes-Benz’s Level 3 System

Mercedes-Benz introduces its Level 3 system called Driver Pilot, which adds self-monitoring and alerts the driver to take control when necessary. In the event of a crash, liability shifts to the manufacturer. However, Mercedes-Benz’s system is limited to specific conditions, such as operating on highways in daylight, good weather, and speeds up to 40 mph. The system will be available in select areas and will require owners to watch instructional videos.

While the limitations are well-defined, the specifics of what drivers can do while the car is self-driving remain unclear. Can they engage in secondary activities like watching videos or playing games? Will there be monitoring systems to ensure rule compliance? Mercedes-Benz’s system will stop the vehicle, activate hazard lights, and seek help if the driver fails to respond promptly, but false alarms may occur if drivers are distracted.

Transitioning to self-driving cars involves not only changing the machine’s design but also human behavior, which poses a significant challenge. While the efforts of automakers to enhance road safety are commendable, achieving a self-driving future will undoubtedly be a long and complex journey.

[An expanded version of this blog appeared on the opinion page of the Ahwatukee Foothill News on August 12, 2023.]

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