Mercedes-Benz will take a step closer to producing a car that won’t need a driver when it unveils its new S-class model in 2013.

The flagship saloon has innovations that enable it to steer itself, to automatically pull back from potential head-on crashes, and to pick out pedestrians and animals 160m away in the dark using heat-sensing equipment.

The current S-class will brake automatically to avoid colliding with a car in front of it, but the new one will have the capability to sense cars approaching from the left and right ahead of it at junctions and brake when necessary.

It will even detect pedestrians stepping off the pavement – potentially into its path – and brake accordingly.

And in a bid to improve safety standards even further, the car comes with seatbelts that inflate in a collision and ‘magic’ headlamps that light the road ahead by projecting a permanent main beam either side of the car it’s following while not blinding that car’s driver.

The groundbreaking new tech has been developed using a ?25 million simulator built at Merc’s research centre in Stuttgart.

The most radical innovation on the new car is Steering Assist which, when switched on, will steer the car even when the driver takes their hands off the wheel at high speed.

It’s designed to reduce the amount of steering a driver has to do by ensuring the car stays in the centre of its lane but in effect takes Mercedes a giant step forward towards producing a driverless car.

The company says legislation means currently “man can’t totally hand over to machine” but it freely admits that day will come.

The car is equipped with 26 sensors – covering 360° – that ‘talk’ to each other and allow it to build up a picture of the road and traffic situation around it.

These sensors include cameras, hi-tech radar equipment as well as ultrasonic and infrared devices.

They enable Steering Assist to read the road ahead by monitoring the white lines and vehicles in front. Drivers will be able to take their hands off the wheel for 10 seconds before an alarm is sounded and if there is no response the system switches off five seconds later.

The new Lane Keeping Assist also recognises when the S-class crosses the broken white line, and if sensors detect an oncoming vehicle it applies the brakes to one side of the car to pull it back into its correct lane.

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