Mercedes-Benz says it has achieved Level 3 automation, which requires less driver input and surpasses the self-driving capabilities of Tesla and other major US automakers

  • Mercedes-Benz announced it will launch its Level 3 autonomous driving system in Nevada.
  • Level 3 requires less driver input, allowing a user to play video games while driving, for example.

Mercedes-Benz plans to roll out higher levels of autonomous driving for its U.S. customers by the second half of 2023, according to an announcement on Thursday.

The German automaker’s Drive Pilot system features Level 3 autonomous driving capabilities based on standards set by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

The feature will be available as an option for 2024 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQ sedan models, the company said. A US price point has not been announced. In Germany, the system costs $5,300 for the S-Class and about $8,000 for the EQS model, according to Auto News Europe.

Unlike a Level 2 system, which requires constant driver supervision when steering and accelerating the vehicle, Level 3 automation gives the driver more latitude. The SAE defines Level 3 as a system where the user does not drive when “automated driving functions are activated – even if you are in the ‘driver’s seat'”.

For example, according to The Drive, an automotive news outlet that tested the Drive Pilot system, a driver can take their head and eyes off the road to talk to a passenger or watch a movie.

During the demo, the test driver played Tetris and surfed the internet while the Mercedes EQS handled all aspects of driving.

However, a Level 3 system still requires a driver to be able to regain control of the vehicle at any time. This means a driver cannot fall asleep or cover their face while the vehicle is moving. When The Drive’s test pilot held a camera in front of his face, Mercedes’ autonomous driving system turned itself off.

The system is also limited to certain road conditions, and Mercedes-Benz said its Drive Pilot feature only allows the vehicle to go up to 40 mph.

By setting a 2023 date to offer a Level 3 autonomous system to customers in Nevada, Mercedes-Benz appears on track to outperform some of its key EV competitors in the US, including Tesla, Ford and GM.

Since 2015, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has promised to equip his vehicles with what Tesla calls “full self-driving” capabilities. However, the introduction was either delayed or criticized by lawmakers, security experts and customers.

Some critics have also accused the company of misleading its customers by calling the company’s autonomous driving system “full self-driving.”

In November, Musk announced “Full Self-Driving Beta” for North American customers, but the system is still rated at Level 2, US News reported, meaning the vehicle requires the driver’s full attention.

The feature drew negative media scrutiny almost immediately, with reports of a Tesla Model S in “full self-driving” mode causing an eight-car pile-up in the San Francisco Bay Area in November.

According to The Intercept, since 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has investigated 35 accidents involving Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” or “Autopilot” system. The accidents killed 19 people, the outlet reported.

Mercedes-Benz said in its announcement that its technology complies with Nevada state regulations, indicating the autonomous system will only be available to Nevada-based customers. Mercedes-Benz added that it also filed certification documents in California.

Spokesmen for Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and SAE did not respond to a request for comment.