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April 30, 2024
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US investigates Ford’s hands-free driving tech after crashes

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has initiated an inquiry into two incidents involving Ford Mustang Mach-E vehicles equipped with BlueCruise technology. These accidents occurred during nighttime when the system was active, with both cars colliding with stationary vehicles.

BlueCruise, an advanced driver assistance system, enables hands-free driving primarily on highways. Ford has affirmed its collaboration with the NHTSA in assisting with the investigation.

One of the incidents, transpiring in February, involved a Ford Mustang Mach-E using BlueCruise crashing into the back of a stationary Honda, resulting in the tragic demise of the Honda’s 56-year-old driver. Another collision involving a Ford Mach-E equipped with BlueCruise occurred in March in Philadelphia.

BlueCruise incorporates eye-tracking cameras to monitor driver attention and prompts them to resume control if it detects a lapse in focus. The NHTSA’s preliminary inquiry will scrutinize the efficacy of the driver monitoring feature and the overall performance of the system in driving tasks.

These two accidents, which prompted the NHTSA’s investigation, are also under separate examination by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

BlueCruise has garnered approval for use on selected motorways in the UK, with specific regulations governing its operation. Transport Minister Jesse Norman lauded driver assistance systems for enhancing driving safety by minimizing the potential for human error.

In the UK, BlueCruise’s “hands off, eyes on” capability was introduced last April after rigorous governmental evaluations. However, the Department for Transport refrained from commenting on the US investigation, emphasizing that Ford’s BlueCruise received approval in the UK following stringent assessments.

The NHTSA’s latest inquiry into driver assistance systems follows its scrutiny of Tesla’s Autopilot software. Like BlueCruise, Autopilot operates at Level 2 autonomy, necessitating driver alertness and manual control.

The BBC’s technology editor, Zoe Kleinman, tested BlueCruise in January on the M25 motorway and found the experience both relaxing and stressful. While the system maintained lane position and speed, it occasionally took actions she wouldn’t have chosen, leading her to intervene. Kleinman concluded that although promising, BlueCruise still has room for improvement before achieving widespread trust among drivers.

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