California Regulators approve ‘Turquoise Blue’ car lights to indicate ‘Self-driving modes’

Even though it’s been nearly a decade since self-driving tech made it to our cultural forefront, we’re still in the process of figuring out how to make the technology safer, how to implement it in current urban setups, and more importantly, how to successfully legislate it. There’s always a moral conundrum with who is to blame if a self-driving car hits a pedestrian (the driver or the algorithm), but Mercedes-Benz approached this problem laterally by asking the question: How can pedestrians tell if a car is driven by a human or an algorithm? The answer comes in the form of a colored light. Regulators in California and Nevada have approved Mercedes’ use of a turquoise blue indicator (on the front, sides, and back) to help pedestrians and other cars know when the vehicle is being controlled autonomously.

Designer: Mercedes-Benz

Let’s paint the picture: currently, U.S. cars typically sport three light colors – white for headlights and reverse lights, red for brake and rear lights, and amber for turn signals. Enter Mercedes-Benz, breaking the mold with its turquoise blue lights, a feature that will activate when their cars are driving autonomously.

The lights are part of Mercedes’ “Drive Pilot” system, a conditionally autonomous technology. It’s legal only in California and Nevada for now, where it’s been tested. The system allows drivers to relax a bit more in traffic jams on certain highways, even letting them take their eyes off the road when the vehicle is moving at speeds below 65 km/h. This is a leap from other driver assistance systems, like Tesla’s Full Self Driving or GM’s Super Cruise, which require drivers to remain vigilant.

The choice of turquoise blue is no accident. It’s distinctive, ensuring no confusion with existing car light colors, and it’s different enough from the darker blue used by police and emergency vehicles. This selection is backed by the Society of Automotive Engineers, though Mercedes is the first to receive approval for its use. This innovative color will make its appearance around the taillights and headlights of the vehicles equipped with it.

But why go to all this trouble for a color? It’s all about clarity and safety. The turquoise blue lights serve as a clear signal to other road users and law enforcement that the vehicle is under full automated control. This is crucial in situations where the driver might not be looking at the road, ensuring that onlookers don’t mistakenly think something’s amiss. Starting early 2024, this system will be available in Mercedes S-Class and EQS models in Nevada and California, but not beyond these states just yet​.

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Sarang Sheth