1st self-driving car that 'lets you take your eyes off the road' goes on sale in the US — and it's not a Tesla

The steering wheel of a Mercedes-Benz vehicle
The level 3 autonomous vehicles, where the driver does not need to be in control when self-driving features are active, are on sale in California and Nevada. (Image credit: Getty Images)

The first "level 3" self-driving car has gone on sale in the U.S. — almost a year after Mercedes-Benz received the green light to sell vehicles fitted with its autopilot software, dubbed "Drive Pilot."

At least one level 3 autonomous vehicle has now been sold in North America, based on information from California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Fortune reported. This was among 65 vehicles for sale in the state.

All vehicles are classified according to a six-level scale developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) — where level 0 is fully manual and level 5 is fully autonomous with zero human input required.

Most of the self-driving cars on the road today are level 1 or level 2. This means they offer "driver support" features, including automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, lane centering and adaptive cruise control. 

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But while these support features are active, the driver remains in control of the vehicle and must constantly supervise them.

In level 3 self-driving vehicles — like cars fitted with Mercedes-Benz's Drive Pilot system — the person in the driver's seat would not actively need to drive the car while the automated driving features are engaged.

These could be deployed in certain situations, such as when navigating traffic on the freeway. Drive Pilot takes control of the vehicle, meaning the driver can take their eyes off the road and their hands off the steering wheel, according to a promotional video

The first two level-3 cars to be greenlit for sale in the U.S. are Drive Pilot-enabled Mercedes-Benz's S-Class and EQS Sedan models, which are available in California and Nevada only — because these are the only states to have awarded the company the certification.

The company was initially awarded SAE level 3 in January 2023, becoming the first automaker to receive such certification. Other manufacturers are working on similar technology, including BMW in its 7 Series vehicles.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet
Channel Editor, Technology

Keumars is the technology editor at Live Science. He has written for a variety of publications including ITPro, The Week Digital, ComputerActive, The Independent, The Observer, Metro and TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a technology journalist for more than five years, having previously held the role of features editor with ITPro. He is an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a degree in biomedical sciences from Queen Mary, University of London. He's also registered as a foundational chartered manager with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), having qualified as a Level 3 Team leader with distinction in 2023.