A hands-free driving system is now available on UK motorways from Ford


Ministers approved “hands-off, eyes-on” technology for use on certain motorways.

It can control steering, acceleration and braking, but a camera will monitor the driver’s eyes to ensure they’re alert.

The technology will only initially be available for the 2023 model year of Ford’s electric Mustang Mach-E SUV.

This means the model can maintain a safe distance from other cars and even stop them completely in traffic jams.

Thatcham Research, an automotive research firm, said it’s important to consider it the “next evolution of assisted driving technology” rather than a self-driving car.

“What makes it different is that drivers can take their hands off the wheel for the first time. However, their eyes must be on the road ahead,” said Tom Leggett, Thatcham’s vehicle technology specialist.

He added: “Importantly, drivers are not allowed to use their mobiles, fall asleep or conduct any activity that takes their attention off the road.”

Ford’s car is priced at £50,830, and the hands-off technology will be free for the first 90 days, after which drivers must sign up for a monthly subscription.

The delivery of the new model has started since last month. It has a top speed of 80mph and can use both cameras and sensors to detect road lane markings, speed signs and other vehicles’ positions and speeds.

Jesse Norman, minister of transportation, said that driver assistance systems simplify driving but can also help reduce the risk of driver error on the road.

Lisa Brankin, Ford’s managing director in Britain and Ireland, told the BBC’s Today program on Friday that the car will only take control when “the system deems it safe” in specific “blue zones” that are considered safe across 2,300 miles of pre-mapped motorways in England, Scotland, and Wales.

“If your eyes are closed, the car will ask you to put your hands on the steering wheel and take control… This will prompt the driver, and if they don’t respond, the car will slow down to a stop,” he said.

He added that in an accident, the driver would still be fully responsible for insurance claims, as the technology is “not autonomous driving”, and the driver remains in control.

Ford’s BlueCruise technology is considered a “Level 2” driver assistance system, meaning that a human driver must still take over when something goes wrong.

As defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, there are six levels of autonomous driving:

Level 0: Very little automation with some warning or assistive features like automatic braking.

Level 1: Driver assistance, where technology controls an aspect such as cruise control.

Level 2: Partial automation, in which two or more aspects of driving are controlled by technology, such as cruise control and car parking.

Level 3: Conditional automation, where the technology makes almost all decisions on the road, although the driver must still be present to override any potential mistakes. During this phase, drivers can take their eyes off the road for a certain period.

Level 4: High automation, where technology doesn’t require human interaction in most situations. It is currently limited to areas with low-speed limits, roads are easy to read, and regulations currently restrict this type of automation.

Level 5: Full automation, where no assistance is required from a human driver.

Ford’s technology will be available in the US and Canada in 2021. It said that over the past several years, more than 190,000 Ford and Lincoln vehicles had covered more than 60 million miles using the technology without an accident.

Ford’s Bluecruise is the UK’s first system approved for hands-free driving. It will allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel, potentially for hundreds of miles, on UK roads at speeds up to 80mph. But how advanced?

Several vehicles today are at Level 2 of vehicle autonomy. They can brake, steer and accelerate independently, but the driver must always remain in control and pay attention.

In the same way that Ford’s BlueCruise is still classified as a Level 2, so is Tesla’s Autopilot. There are still safety measures in place to ensure the driver pays attention.

Mercedes has the most advanced system currently on the market. Known as Drive Pilot, it allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel and focuses entirely on something else – even watching videos.

But it will work only in certain ‘geo-fenced’ areas and at limited speed. It has yet to be approved for use in the United Kingdom but is available in Germany and Nevada.

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Marta Lopez

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