Will autonomous cars hit the roads in France from 1 September?

12:57, 20 July 2022

From 1 September, the motorway code will be adapted to allow the circulation of level 3 so-called “autonomous” cars in France (on a scale from 0 to 5). What does it mean ? Drivers of vehicles qualified as such may, under certain specific road conditions, take their hands off the steering wheel and look away from the road. They must nevertheless be able to intervene in the smooth running of the car in less than 10 seconds. At level 3, autonomous driving is therefore still limited.

In a press release dated May 6, Mercedes specified what the technology it developed, called “Drive Pilot”, was capable of doing: The system monitors speed and distance and guides the vehicle into its lane. The route profile, route incidents and traffic signs are analyzed and taken into account. of braking maneuvers. “ For the German brand, this translates into the possibility for the driver “to relax or work to save precious time”.

What happens in the event of an accident?

“Given that the driver must be able to take the steering wheel again within a maximum of 10 seconds, it will not be possible to take a nap or play chess while driving”, all indicate the same Marie Albertini. This lawyer specializing in industrial risks in the firm PDGB clarifies who should answer for what in the event of an accident: “The manufacturer’s responsibility will be taken into account when the autonomous driving system is on the road and there has been no warning from it that the driver must take the steering wheel again.”

In addition, it will only be possible to make the car “autonomous” under certain very specific conditions: “on roads where pedestrians and cyclists are prohibited and which, by design, are fitted with physical barriers which separate traffic in opposite directions and which prevent crossing traffic, with a maximum permitted speed of 60 km / h.”, explains the Road Safety Delegation. Either the portrait of a highway or a busy ring road.

Stellantis is preparing its cars for 2024 at the earliest

This new comfort should initially only benefit wealthy owners of very expensive vehicles. Already because at the moment the choice of car is limited, if not non-existent. Only the German manufacturer Mercedes, thanks to its “Drive Pilot” unit, is authorized to market autonomous vehicles at level 3 May 2022. But this is billed between 5,000 and 7,500 euros and fits only two models, the S-Class and EQS , which has already cost around 100,000 euros …

An important development, but not a revolution

Other car brands should enter the game quickly. Stellantis, which includes Citroën, Peugeot, Fiat and Jeep, plans to equip its cars in two years. “The group is working with BMW on joint software, which will be released in 2024 or 2025”explains a member of the communication from the car group. “The idea is not just to equip top-of-the-range vehicles”, he continues, although he admits that the possibility of adding an “autonomous” driving system will first be reserved for premium vehicles of the various brands. The software will be based on cameras, radars and a remote sensing method called LiDAR (developed by the French company Valéo) to retrieve information from the road via three different channels.

Note that Tesla electric cars, famous for the technologies they integrate, are considered Level 2 “autonomous” cars and therefore do not fall into that category.

As a result, as lawyer Marie Albertini says, the traffic permit for level 3 autonomous vehicles “is an important development, but not a revolution”. She imagines the following: “These cars should not drive on French roads on September 1.” In addition to the high cost of the models and the lack of choice, potential buyers will not fail to marvel at the real benefits of this device.

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