Car manufacturers and truck manufacturers are continuing to push towards the day when cars and trucks will be fully autonomous – i.e., self-driving. Almost every car and truck on the road today has some computer features that are designed to help drivers if emergencies occur. Some vehicles have software that takes over for a driver if a car gets too close to another vehicle or if the car is likely to get into an accident for other reasons.
Manufacturers are increasing the level of autonomy that vehicles have. Cars are already being tested where the car drives itself – provided a human driver is in the car ready to take over the controls if need be. Manufacturers are working towards the day when all the occupants of vehicles will be passengers and there will be no drivers.
Mercedes-Benz, according to Jalopnik, recently announced that the manufacturer invited some journalists to drive the new 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS, which has a “Drive Pilot semi-automated driving system.” Mercedes-Benz claims this vehicle is a level-3 vehicle. That means the driver should be ready to take control of the vehicle, but the vehicle is in primary control.
The premium EV model has 630 horsepower and a 478-mile range. It looks to compete with the Tesla Model S. The EQS has “semi-automated driving features, which include lidar sensors with self-cleaning systems” and a “very high-resolution GPS system that accounts for continental drift.” The model also has cameras to ensure the driver is still in the driver’s seat.
Mercedes-Benz plans to test the Drive Pilot technology in low-speed stop-and-go traffic. The vehicle is currently designed to operate at up to 37 mph. Drive Pilot is also designed to “operate the vehicle under certain conditions on fully access-controlled highways, such as Interstate Freeways.” While on the freeway, the driver will be alerted to emergencies or malfunctions. Otherwise, the driver can enjoy the car’s multimedia system.
Is the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS dangerous?
Jalopnik raises the concern that drivers cannot be relied on to take control from a machine in level 2 autonomy vehicles. The problem is worse for level 3 autonomy vehicles. At least in level 2, the driver has to be ready, at all times, to take control. In level 3, the driver can completely take his/her mind off the driving.
In the EQS, if the driver does not timely take control of the vehicle, “Drive Pilot will automatically bring the vehicle to a controlled stop while maintaining its crash avoidance capabilities.” During the controlled stop, the hazard warning lights are supposed to turn on and, if necessary, “emergency assistance is summoned and the vehicle is prepared for emergency assistance by unlocking the doors.”
In short, the car stops in traffic and turns its hazard lights. This does not seem safe to us. It is better than crashing into another vehicle or down an embankment, but a car stopped dead in the middle of traffic is likely to be struck by other vehicles.
The Jalopnik article continues by examining what other options are available – such as allowing the driver to deactivate the Drive Pilot. It is clear to the author that the Mercedes-Benz EQS needs a lot of additional work and is likely defective in its current state.
What are the levels of car autonomy?
According to True Car Adviser, the five levels of car autonomy are:
- Level 0: No Automation. This level applies to most standard cars. At most, a vehicle at this level will have automatic cruise control.
- Level 1: Driver assistance. This level uses adaptive cruise control that uses radars and cameras to help ensure your car stays a safe distance from the car in front of you. The car automatically applies the brakes when traffic slows. Level 1 also uses lane assist technology to prevent your car from drifting into other lanes – when you are tired or not paying attention. Most new cars have level 1 autonomy.
- Level 2: Partial Automation. At this level, the driver has his/her hands on the steering wheel so he/she can take control if needed. Level 2 automation helps with steering and controlling the speed of the vehicle. Some examples of level 2 autonomy include the Tesla Autopilot, Volvo Pilot Assist, and Audi Traffic Jam Assist.
- Level 3: Conditional Automation. At this level, the car can drive itself – but only in ideal conditions and with some limitations such as “limited-access divided highways at a certain speed.” Drivers must be behind the steering column – though their hands are off the wheel. When conditions become non-ideal, the driver should take control of the vehicle.
- Level 4: High Automation. Here, the vehicle can drive itself without human input, but the operation is restricted to “known use cases.” Waymo is testing Level 4 vehicles, subject to current regulations and legal issues.
- Level 5: Full Automation. At this level, the car is truly without a driver. Level 5 autonomous vehicles must be able to navigate through all traffic conditions. With a level 5 vehicle, there is no need for a steering wheel or pedals. This is the type of vehicle you always see in sci-fi movies.
The right to hold autonomous vehicle manufacturers accountable for accidents
Autonomous vehicle testing is being regulated, but not in a truly consistent way. State and federal lawmakers are constantly working to keep up with new technology, but the regulation is pretty bare bones. Currently, the best way to hold ambitious automakers accountable for any accidents their cars cause is by filing a product liability lawsuit.
Car manufacturers have a duty to make safe cars and use safe parts. Autonomous vehicles and autonomous systems such as Drive Pilot cannot be defective, because defects cause deaths and injuries. The duty is on the car manufacturer to make sure their cars and car parts are safe. If a defective car or car part causes an accident, the accident victims can file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. The manufacturer is strictly liable if a defect existed and the defect caused the crash. There is no need to prove negligence.
At Philbrook Law Office, our Vancouver, WA car accident lawyers represent families of deceased victims and personal injury victims in negligence cases and product liability claims. We hold drivers who speed or violate traffic laws accountable for their injuries. We hold manufacturers liable for defective design, shoddy workmanship, and faulty instructions. If you have been injured in any car accident, please call our Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA locations at 360-695-3309 or use our contact form to make an appointment. We handle accident cases on a contingency fee basis.
Founding Attorney Matthew Philbrook attended Clark College, Washington State University, and Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Washington State and Oregon State Bar Associations and started Philbrook Law Office in 2005. He specializes in Personal Injury, DUI and Criminal Defense cases. Learn more about Mr. Philbrook.