Mercedes-Benz scored another self-driving victory, and on Tesla’s former home turf, after being granted the first authorization in the state of California “to sell or lease vehicles with an automated driving system to the public,” albeit with very strict restrictions.

The permission slip was granted for Mercedes-Benz’s DRIVE PILOT system, a Society of Automotive Engineers level 3 automated system that, unlike Tesla’s level-2 Autopilot and other competing driver assist systems, can actually be classified as one that’s doing the driving – most of the time, although you’ll still need to be behind the wheel.

“An SAE Level 3 system actively performs driving tasks without the active control of a human driver under certain conditions, though the driver must remain behind the wheel to take over when prompted,” the California DMV said in its announcement. 

According to Mercedes-Benz, DRIVE PILOT automatically controls speed and follow distance while staying in its lane and taking “the route profile, events occurring on the route and traffic signs” into consideration. 

The system is also able to react to unexpected situations with evasive maneuvers and braking, the German car biz claimed, and if a driver doesn’t take over when prompted the car activates the hazard lights and slowly comes to a stop before making an emergency system call to alert first responders to a potential problem. 

Regardless of those capabilities, the California DMV is placing some serious restrictions on the Merc system. It can only operate during the day on certain limited roads, and only at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. The system will be usable on California highways in the Bay Area, Central Valley, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego, as well as on Interstate 15 between southern California and Nevada, where the autopilot was approved for use in January.

Of course, the DMV’s permission “excludes operation on city or county streets, in construction zones, during heavy rain or heavy fog, on flooded roads and during weather conditions that are determined to impact performance of DRIVE PILOT,” the Department said. 

Another blow to Tesla

With the Germans invading California and Nevada, the number of southwestern states housing Tesla facilities where it won’t be forced to share the roads with more advanced self-driving technology is fading fast. 

Tesla is often mum about the actual capabilities of its “full self-driving” system – no mention of SAE levels appear on its Autopilot page, for example – but in the FAQ for an FSD recall earlier this year the company admits that “FSD Beta is an SAE Level 2 driver support feature.” 

“With FSD Beta, as with all SAE Level 2 driver support features, the driver is responsible for operation of the vehicle whenever the feature is engaged and must constantly supervise the feature and intervene,” Tesla notes in the recall FAQ. 

Tesla’s Autopilot was the leader in the industry, but has since slipped to the middle of the pack, according to Consumer Reports. 

Even the limited professed abilities of Autopilot may be overrated, as one of the system’s own engineers admitted a video reportedly demonstrating Autopilot’s FSD capabilities was faked. Tesla has since confirmed that it’s being investigated by the Department of Justice over FSD, hype surrounding it, and the many deaths linked to the system.

We’ve asked Tesla for comment, but haven’t heard back. ®

Read More