Driving “hands-free”: what is changing in France this September 1st
In France, the legal framework for what is known as level 3 autonomous driving will change on September 1. However, no vehicle is currently compatible with this “hands-free” driving.
Consult or text, read a book, play a video game … these are activities that are currently strictly prohibited while driving. And this will always be the case in France from this Thursday, September 1st, even if the legal framework changes, creating for the first time the possibility of deviating from this rule of the driver strictly (in theory) concentrating on driving the vehicle .
A first legal framework for “autonomous” driving
Several decrees passed last year come into effect on September 1 to regulate this “hands-free” behavior. A premiere: Even with the most modern vehicles that can offer highly assisted driving, the driver has had to remain vigilant and hold the steering wheel in his hand in order to be able to react at any time if necessary.
In these models, now also widespread among consumer brands, we find the duo of adaptive cruise control (which adapts the vehicle’s speed to the vehicle in front) and road-line tracking . With a steering wheel that moves “all by itself”, but has to be held in the hand or runs the risk of being called to order by warnings and the progressive deactivation of driving aids.
A level of autonomous driving, called level 2, according to the classification that distinguishes 6 levels of autonomy, from 0 without assistance to level 5, where the vehicle no longer even needs a steering wheel and pedal.
What enables level 3 autonomous driving?
Specifically, Level 3 autonomous driving allows the driver to (really) do something else while the vehicle is moving. At the moment, the framework is still quite limited since the function can only be activated on predefined roads and on two models marketed by Mercedes: the S-Class and the EQS.
And these two models, which are very high quality at over 110,000 euros, will not even let their drivers drive “hands-free” in France from September 1st … since this function is currently only offered on 13,191 km of compatible roads in Germany. Mainly motorways, where the “Drive Pilot” function can be activated in dense traffic areas and up to 60 km/h. A first step before this speed limit is possibly increased.
Once this mode is activated, the driver can read an article, consult his phone or even access certain functions accessible from the screen, letting his vehicle drive forward alone.
On the other hand, you can’t take a nap because you have to get behind the wheel quickly. It is also forbidden to constantly look back or even to leave the driver’s seat, Mercedes informed us.
In France, it is not yet possible to give a marketing date for the “Drive Pilot” option, which the brand does not yet offer for its S-Class and EQS. In Germany, the production of the high-resolution maps provided by Here on the roads where the function can be activated took around two years. This work was initiated in France and further steps are required before this feature can be offered
A question of liability in the event of an accident
The fundamental point of this legal framework, which thus allows autonomous driving: the vehicle manufacturer will be responsible in the event of an accident if these functions are activated.
That explains the currently very restrictive conditions for the “Drive Pilot” at Mercedes. A brand like Tesla, known for its misleadingly named “Autopilot” driving assistant, shouldn’t rush into this Level 3 approval in Europe either. But to be continued, because obtaining this certification now seems essential to be able to drive hands-free in Europe. What Tesla is aiming for with its most advanced version of Autopilot, FSD (for “Fully Self-Driving” or “Fully Autonomous Driving Capability” in France).
However, gray areas remain: for example, who is liable if an accident occurs when the vehicle asks the driver to take control? Or how to really ensure that users don’t play too much with the rules surrounding these wizards?
This legal framework already makes it possible to anticipate future technological developments around level 3 or higher autonomous driving. While other brands are working on advanced systems, Mercedes is positioning itself as a pioneer in this new framework. Next steps for this star brand level certification: USA, California and Nevada are planned for the end of 2022. Pilot projects are also running in three Chinese regions.