When specific driving criteria are met, Drive Pilot allows the driver to look away for long periods and keep their hands off the wheel.
Drive Pilot will be offered as a subscription service for $2500 per year in Nevada and California.
It's rare to wish for more traffic, but we needed a slowdown so we could stay below 40 mph and keep watching Beyoncé concert clips. We were heading east on I-10 from Santa Monica toward downtown Los Angeles, and when the other cars sped up, the Mercedes EQS580 we were driving (riding in? overseeing?) would beep gently, requesting that we retake the wheel. Which meant turning our attention away from Bey and focusing it on the Honda CR-V in front of us.
Are you rolling your eyes at yet another irresponsible driver using some poorly labeled "self-driving" tech and putting everyone around them in danger? That's a fair assumption. In this case, though, we were on the right side of the law even as we drank coffee and turned around to chat with a passenger in the rear seat. If our EQS580 had been involved in an accident during that time, Mercedes would have been responsible, not us.
Self-driving cars are probably the most egregiously mislabeled technology in the automotive sphere. Let's be clear: They don't exist. All the cars on the market at the time of this writing with any major drive-assist functions offer a Level 2 system. And yes, that includes Tesla's Full Self-Driving and GM's Super Cruise. With Level 2 tech, despite what you may have seen in YouTube videos, the driver is not legally able to turn their attention away from the road, whether that's hands on the wheel or eyes forward. Mercedes Drive Pilot is the first approved Level 3 drive system, which means that when it is engaged—and all the drive criteria are met—the driver can legally stop paying attention. At least until the CR-V speeds up, and Drive Pilot beeps at us to take control.
Drive Pilot: When Can It Be Used?
This was our first chance behind the wheel (although we did a ridealong back in March 2022), and it's interesting to tackle one of L.A.'s most tiresome stretches of freeway with the option of simply zoning out. Drive Pilot has strict parameters for its use. It's available only on mapped highways and during daylight when there is no rain or snow and the traffic is below 40 mph. It will return control to the driver if it senses something out of the ordinary, whether that's a pedestrian on the highway or an oncoming emergency vehicle.
What's It Like to Use?
Most commutes in Los Angeles meet the sunny-and-slow criteria, so during our test, we were able to engage the system—a straightforward button press—and just... stop driving. Well, theoretically. It's not so easy to release years of ingrained habits, and not only did we find it difficult to stop paying attention, but there also wasn't really anything we wanted to do instead. Yes, you can watch videos or play games on the infotainment screen, and if we were in Germany, where using hand-held devices behind the wheel is legal, we could have scrolled Instagram. But something that's sort of nice about driving a car is being forced to take a break from those things. If I-10 were our usual commute, we might feel differently.
On the nonphilosophical side, Drive Pilot works well while all its conditions are met, but transitioning from Drive Pilot back to Level 2 adaptive cruise is still clunky. While in use, Drive Pilot won't go above 40 mph, but it took some time to recognize that traffic ahead was moving faster and notify us to take over. In that time, the car in front of us could pull several lengths ahead—not a huge deal, but enough to irritate city drivers used to nose-to-tail spacing. Mercedes's Level 2 features, such as adaptive cruise and automated lane changing, can operate at much higher speeds, and we were able to use them uninterrupted for more of our drive. However, during that time, it's not legal to stop paying attention, so if we'd had a fender bender or a lane-change incident, it would have been our responsibility.
Mercedes wants the tech to be safe. The company has logged more than 100,000 test miles in California alone. Drive Pilot combines information gathered from radar, cameras, and lidar and uses microphones to listen for sirens and sensors to detect wet pavement. The redundancy of systems includes backups for braking, steering, and much of the electrical. At the moment in the U.S., the tech is legal only in California and Nevada, and Mercedes expects additional states to approve its use. Drive Pilot will be offered on S-class and EQS models as a subscription service starting at $2500 per year. That's a pricey add-on, but it would cost more to commute to your job via helicopter, and we can't think of any other way to mitigate traffic in California's big cities.
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