What Happens if a Self-Driving Mercedes-Benz S-Class Crashes?

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What happens if a self-driving Mercedes-Benz S-Class or any other self-driving car crashes? Well, it depends. Most automakers will claim drivers have the legal liability in such cases. Not Mercedes-Benz though.

Mercedes-Benz optionally equips the S-Class with Drive Pilot. It is an SAE Level 3 conditional automated driving system. It is supposed to cut off human error and also human vulnerabilities, such as drowsiness and distraction. The German carmaker claims that, when the driver engages the feature, they will be able to relax on board.

German regulations will allow drivers that travel in a self-driving Mercedes-Benz S-Class to use smartphones while on the move. Going on social media, playing a movie, or watching a YouTube video are all allowed in California as well.

Mercedes is the first automaker to get international certification for the Level 3 system. The system is capable of operating on fully access-controlled highways, such as Interstate Freeways. Drive Pilot will alert the user to resume driving, but will maintain the vehicle control until they are able to do so. But what happens if the car crashes while it drives autonomously?

Unlike Tesla, which goes advertising its Level 2 and Level 2+ as autonomous, the German brand will take legal liability for it. For the past two years, the name of the American electric car makers has been involved in numerous crashes with the Autopilot on, some of them being fatal.

What are the limitations of the self-driving Mercedes-Benz S-Class with Drive Pilot?

With this move though, Mercedes is trying to get more credibility from legislators across the United States. The Germans have more than one ace up their sleeves. They impose stricter and very cautious limitations. A 40-mph (64 km/h) speed limitation in the U.S. or 60 km/h (37 mph) on German roads is on the list.

The operation of the system depends on the limits of the Mercedes mapping and on the weather conditions as well. The function based on a plethora of cameras, sensors, radars, powerful processors, and two GPS antennas will only work in perfect visibility and on pre-approved roads.

Autogefuhl and Lucas Bolster, engineer from Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, took the luxury sedan to the I-10 highway near Los Angeles, California, to prove the capabilities of the Drive Pilot. “The car is the driver, it’s doing the dynamic driving task and your job is just to remain ready to respond to its request for you to continue driving”, Bolster explains.

Mercedes-Benz thus becomes the first passenger carmaker that will take legal liability if the Level 3 autonomous system will fail on public roads and lead to a crash. But regulators will need to set up a specific insurance system. The move will put pressure on other carmakers to improve their autonomous driving systems and take responsibility in case of crashes.