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Your New S-Class Will Be Able to Drive Itself Later This Year

2024 Mercedes-Benz EQS front
  • Mercedes' Drive Pilot technology officially cleared for use in Nevada.
  • Drive Pilot is the first publicly available Level 3 autonomous driving system.
  • It will be available on 2024 S-Class and EQS models.

At this year's CES, Mercedes-Benz announced it had applied for use of its Level 3 autonomous driving program — dubbed Drive Pilot — in the states of California and Nevada. Today, Nevada gave the go-ahead to start allowing Mercedes models equipped with Drive Pilot to use the hands-free driving technology within its borders. Nevada will be the first state in the U.S. to allow Level 3 autonomous driving with everyday consumers behind the wheel. (On the commercial front, mobility company Motional already runs automated taxis in Las Vegas, albeit with a driver in the vehicle in case the person needs to take control.) And Mercedes has also disclosed which vehicles will be the first to offer Drive Pilot, with the 2024 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQS leading the charge.

What is Level 3 automated driving?

Back up a bit — what exactly is Level 3 automated driving? The Society of Automotive Engineers describes different levels of driving automation, ranging from Level 0, which encapsulates basic safety systems like blind-spot warning and automatic emergency braking, to Level 5, where a vehicle drives itself in all conditions.

The biggest jump between levels in terms of driver attention requirement is between Levels 2 and 3. Even the most advanced publicly available systems, like GM's Super Cruise or Ford's BlueCruise, are sophisticated Level 2 systems, only allowing hands-free driving on certain roads and in certain conditions. The driver must be fully engaged and aware of the surroundings and able to take the wheel when necessary.

Under the conditions where it is allowed to work, Level 3 automation does not require the driver to be actively involved in the process of driving. The driver does not have to be keep eyes on the road and is free to converse with passengers, use a phone, or engage with the infotainment system.

The step of removing the driver partially from the equation is a monumental hurdle to overcome, from both a technological and a legal perspective. We're sure that one of the reasons the tech is just now rolling out is that Mercedes has claimed it will be responsible if an accident occurs while the system is engaged.

2024 Mercedes-Benz EQS front

Where can I use Drive Pilot, and which cars will feature it?

As announced today, Nevada will be the first state that allows individuals to use Drive Pilot within its borders. Since GPS usage is a primary component that allows Drive Pilot to function, we can assume that Nevada will be geofenced for this technology. In other words, as soon as you cross into any state that borders Nevada, Drive Pilot will likely stop working (until, presumably, those states also give the go-ahead for Drive Pilot activation).

Another key component of Drive Pilot use, at least initially, is that the system will only work up to 40 mph. Above that threshold, the system will disengage and the driver will have to resume control of the vehicle, though Level 2 support via the adaptive cruise control and lane centering assistance functions is still available. So even though you won't be able to watch a movie while cruising on the highway — yet — you can still rely on those systems to help make driving easier.

Drive Pilot will be available this fall for 2024 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQS sedans. There's no word yet on how much the hardware will cost or what the subscription fee, if any, will be.

Edmunds says

When it launches later this year, Drive Pilot will be the first Level 3 autonomous driving system in the U.S. — even though it will initially be only available on Mercedes' most elite models and only under certain conditions in Nevada. Still, this is a major step forward on the path to an autonomous future.