Mercedes Will Take The Blame For Autonomous Driving Crashes

Technology / 3 Comments

Whose fault is it if you crash a car when it's driving autonomously? Merc says it shouldn't be yours.

Autonomous driving is a legal minefield. Just ask Audi, which recently put its top lawyers on record to declare its feelings on autonomous software and the limitations thereof. But for every brand taking a firm stance on the legalities of such technology, there's one trying to dodge the issue, like Tesla placing blame for incidents that occur on Autopilot on the driver rather than on the system. So it may or may not come as a surprise then that Mercedes-Benz is beating Tesla to the punch when it comes to taking legal liability for its autonomous driving systems as the German marquee embarks on the next phase of its self-driving journey.

Officially titled Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot, the system is a Level 3 automated driving assistant that first debuted in Germany in December 2021 on the new S-Class Sedan. But Mercedes is now paving the way for SAE Level 3 autonomy to reach US shores by the end of this year.

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Already fully approved for use on German highways, the system operates at speeds of below 40 mph on predetermined highway routes. Below this speed, the car is fully responsible for speed, steering, and braking in traffic. While this sounds a lot like Tesla's Autopilot, or Volvo's Pilot Assist, there's a difference - Mercedes assumes full legal responsibility from the time Drive Pilot is engaged, and you don't have to have a hand on the wheel, either. Mercedes says that you can read a book, watch a film, or simply people-watch in traffic. Crash into someone while doing so? Legally, that's Mercedes' fault. This crucial disclosure is different to all systems supplied by rival manufacturers, including and not limited to General Motors' SuperCruise and Ford's BlueCruise.

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The US has already been making great strides towards autonomous driving, recently approving legislation that would allow purpose-built autonomous cars to forego steering wheels altogether. But Mercedes is currently in talks with the states of California and Nevada to get approval for this level 3 software by the end of the year, and taking responsibility for what may happen is a big step towards this. The USA has very few federal regulations pertaining to such systems, with most legislation passed independently by the various states. For that reason, Mercedes will start its negotiations with forward-thinking states like Nevada and California and take it from there.

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One of the reasons Mercedes is willing to assume liability is that it believes Drive Pilot has enough redundancy baked in to ensure supreme safety, relying on LiDAR, GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS satellites.

Unlike current Level 2 systems which can switch off automatically at a moment's notice, Drive Pilot will provide a 10-second warning, so you can put your book down and reassume control of the vehicle. This includes scenarios where an emergency vehicle may be approaching. These systems are not yet at the level at which they can automatically pull to the side to clear a path for emergency vehicles, so instead, it provides fair warning so the driver can do so. It uses cameras and microphones to listen and look for cues like sirens and flashing lights with enough time to safely hand off driving responsibilities to the person in the driver's seat.

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The system is the next step towards full autonomy, but while current Level 2 systems can be used across most roads, and even within cities, Drive Pilot is limited to a very select grouping of highways with no stoplights, roundabouts, or other traffic control measures. These roads must be mapped beforehand by Mercedes, which has already performed the necessary mapping in Nevada and California.

Other situations that will preclude the use of the system include inclement weather, and with 10 seconds for the driver to reassume control, it should go without saying that you can't doze off or occupy any seat other than the driver's position.

Once Mercedes receives approval, we can expect this tech to roll out in cars like the S-Class and Mercedes EQS, and perhaps soon, we might even get SAE Level 4 autonomy in the form of Mercedes Intelligent Park Pilot, an almost completely driver-free parking valet developed with Bosch. Mercedes is currently evaluating the US market to see whether this possibility can become a reality.

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