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Audi Bails on 'Traffic Jam Pilot' Driver Assist for Us Americans

Illustration for article titled Audi Bails on Traffic Jam Pilot Driver Assist for Us Americans
Illustration: Audi

Last year, Audi announced it would be bringing a suite of driver assist technologies, “Traffic Jam Pilot,” to the United States, but it would be difficult to get that approved through U.S. auto regulations. it turns out, it was too much for Audi, which has bailed.

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The news comes to us from transportation reporter Eric Paul Dennis, from the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminar going on today:

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I reached out to Audi, which happily clarified that this was a bit of an oversimplification, and that infrastructure and “customer training” were also factored into the decision:

We have chosen to focus on introducing it in Germany first as the U.S. represents more differences in federal and state regulations, infrastructure as well as potentially customer training. We are mindful of these differences and feel it is not a decision to be taken lightly and we certainly look to do this with safety a first priority. So we will continue to look to bring the functionality when we feel the market is ready and will focus on Germany at this time.

Traffic Jam Pilot is not a fully-autonomous system, but a driver-assist system that’s supposed to be a step up from what you can get from Tesla today. Audi has been calling this Level 3 to Tesla’s Level 2. Well, here’s how Audi described its own it’s-not-Autopilot driver assist system when it was new:

The traffic jam pilot manages starting, accelerating, steering and braking. The driver no longer needs to monitor the car permanently. They can take their hands off the steering wheel permanently and, depending on the national laws, focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the on-board TV.

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Again, this is not full autonomy, but if it did what Audi says it will, this would be a big step up from, say, Cadillac’s Super Cruise or Tesla’s Autopilot. I will point out that this is maybe not something we wanted in the first place, as we pointed out last year:

Dubbed the Traffic Jam Pilot, the automaker confidently says it will allow drivers to “focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the on-board TV”—so long as they pay some attention to the road. This probably isn’t a good idea for the public.

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That we’re not getting this tech is a real bummer but not necessarily a huge surprise. Audi said that it wasn’t quite ready to get this over here last year, and it didn’t know when that would happen, as we wrote about a year ago when Audi said that this tech would come to the States:

Audi also couched that a lot will need to happen before Traffic Jam Pilot becomes available to consumers:

The introduction of the Audi AI traffic jam pilot means the statutory framework will need to be clarified in each individual market, along with the country-specific definition of the application and testing of the system...In addition, a range of approval procedures and their corresponding timescales will need to be observed worldwide. Audi will therefore be adopting a step-by-step approach to the introduction of the traffic jam pilot in production models.

So this may be a while.

This isn’t the only Audi tech that’s not permitted in the United States. Over in Europe you can get much fancier headlights with automatically-dipping high beams for oncoming traffic that, thanks to some poor regulatory wording from half a century ago, is not legal over here.

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As it is, Audi drivers will have to rely purely on their own impeccable driving skill to get around safely and securely for the foreseeable future.

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If you know something about what’s up with Audi’s Traffic Jam Pilot or if you were a part of its testing program, here’s how to reach out to us securely.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

There are four main reasons Audi should focus on Germany first and not America:

1. Vehicle inspections. The German cars have the TUV inspections every couple of years. This inspection is extremely through. In America, the safety inspections that some (not all) states have are not nearly as through. A computer driving program that also has to account for bad tires, worn ball joints, questionable brakes, etc. is much more complex.

2. Driver behavior. Germans are, in general, very disciplined drivers. They follow the rules of the roads properly much more often than American drivers. Not saying all Germans are great drivers, only more of them are predictable in behavior than US drivers.

3. Road conditions. Famously US roads are not in the same conditions as German Roads. The recent Tesla crash in LA shows how poorly marked roads seems to have confused the autopilot. 

4. Tort. Many US cases would be laughed out of a court in Frankfurt. “Telsa told you to pay attention and you were watching a movie.”  I know a guy that took off as soon as the light turned green and got nailed by a red light runner in Germany.   He had to pay something like 25% of the damages because he should have been paying attention better.  In America, there are billboards in every town saying stuff like “In a wreck, need a check?”