US investigating Ford BlueCruise after accidents

Image source, Bloomberg via Getty Images

  • author, Chris Vallance and Lev McMahon
  • Role, Technology reporters

The US Highway Safety Agency is investigating Ford's BlueCruise driver assistance system after two fatal crashes.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) books In both cases the Ford Mustang Mach-E vehicles collided with stationary vehicles at night while the system was in operation.

BlueCruise is a driver-assistance technology that allows hands-free driving on certain roads, usually highways.

Ford told the BBC it was working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to “support its investigation.”

In February, a Ford Mustang Mach-E using BlueCruise technology slammed into the back of a parked Honda, killing the 56-year-old driver of the parked car, Reuters reported.

The other accident involving a Ford Mach-E occurred in March in Philadelphia.

BlueCruise's software checks whether drivers are paying attention using eye-tracking cameras, and asks them to regain control of the car if it identifies any deviation in focus.

NHTSA says its initial investigation will focus on the driver monitoring aspect of the system, as well as how well it performs driving tasks overall.

The two crashes that prompted the new investigation are being investigated separately by another safety body, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

“Reduce error”

Experts say that driver assistance technology has been approved for use on some UK motorways, although there are differences in the way it is implemented and the regulations governing its use.

Its launch was welcomed by Transport Minister Jesse Norman, who said driver assistance systems “make driving smoother and easier, but can also help make roads safer by reducing the scope of driver error”.

The Department for Transport declined to comment on the new US investigation, but said approval to use Ford's BlueCruise system in the UK was issued after a rigorous vetting and evaluation process.

Like BlueCruise, Autopilot is an example of Level 2 self-driving software — which involves partial automation where two or more aspects of driving are controlled by technology, such as speed regulation and parking.

Autopilot requires drivers to be alert and keep their hands on the wheel.

Blue Cruise Experience

Zoe Kleinman, the BBC's technology editor, tried hands-free technology in January on one of the UK's busiest motorways, the M25, which she found to be “relaxing and stressful at the same time, as you can't control… A vehicle traveling at 70 miles per hour in morning traffic.” But also learn that you don't have to be like that.”

She found that the moment she stopped watching the route, BlueCruise was deactivated, leaving her alone in charge.

While the BlueCruise-enabled car stayed in the lane and kept up with traffic, Zoe said it also took some actions she said it wouldn't have done — it was driving in the left lane and appearing to speed up on slippery roads when exiting the freeway, which led to her decision. Touch the brake.

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