Ford drivers will be able to legally take their hands off the wheel once the company’s BlueCruise technology has been approved in the UK.
Ministers have approved “hands-and-eyes” technology for use on some motorways.
It can control steering, acceleration and braking, but a camera will monitor the driver’s eyes to keep them alert.
Initially, the technology will only be available for 2023 electric Mustang Mach-E SUVs.
It can also keep a safe distance from other cars and even bring them to a complete stop in traffic jams, although it is only offered on a subscription basis.
Thatcham Research, an automotive research firm, says it’s important to note that this is not a self-driving car but “the next evolution in driver-assistance technology”.
“What makes the difference is that for the first time drivers are allowed to take their hands off the wheel. However, their eyes must be forward,” said Tom Leggett, vehicle technology expert at Thatcham.
He added: “It is important that drivers are not allowed to use mobile phones, doze off or engage in any distracting activity on the road.”
Access to the technology is included with the purchase of the £50,830 car for the first 90 days but drivers will then have to sign up for a monthly subscription.
Deliveries of the new model began last month. It has a top speed of 80 mph and uses both cameras and sensors to detect road markings and speed signs, as well as the position and speed of other cars on the road.
Transport Minister Jesse Norman said: “The latest advanced driver assistance systems make driving smoother and easier, but they can also help make roads safer by reducing range. driver error.”
Lisa Brankin, Ford’s chief executive in the UK and Ireland, also told the BBC’s Today program on Friday that the car would only take over when “the system feels it’s safe” in certain “green zones” considered safe on 2,300 miles of pre-mapped motorways in England, Scotland and Wales.
“If you close your eyes, the car will remind you to put your hands on the steering wheel and control… It will constantly remind the driver and if they don’t respond, the car will slow down gradually and then stop,” she said. speak. .
She added that in the event of an accident, the driver is still fully responsible for insurance claims, as the technology “is not autonomous driving” and the driver is in control. .
There are several levels of autonomous driving:
- Level 1: Driver assistance, where the technology controls an aspect of the driving experience, such as cruise control or lane-keeping assist
- Level 2: Partial automation, where two or more aspects of driving are controlled by technology, such as speed control and parking performed by the car itself
- Level 3: Conditional automation, where technology makes nearly all decisions on the road, although the driver still needs to be present to correct any potential mistakes. At this stage, the driver can take his eyes off the road for a certain amount of time
- Level 4: Highly automated, where the technology does not require any human interaction in most cases. This is currently limited to some areas with low speed limits and legible roads. This type of automation is currently restricted by regulation
- Level 5: Full automation, absolutely no help from the driver
Ford’s BlueCruise technology represents what is known as a “Level 2” driver assistance system, which still requires the driver to take control if something goes wrong.
In the United States and Canada, the technology has been available since 2021. Ford says that over the past few years, more than 190,000 Ford and Lincoln vehicles have traveled more than 60 million miles using the technology without any accidents.
RAC’s road safety spokesman, Simon Williams, said the use of cameras in new Ford models to track the driver’s gaze has overcome concerns about the absence of a steering wheel.
“Too many accidents on the highway are caused by drivers getting behind other vehicles or swerving out of their lanes, so systems can prevent these problems from happening,” he added. It will help avoid countless collisions.”
AA’s president, Edmund King, said that while the technological elements of the driver assistance systems or lane-keeping would provide “safety benefits”, drivers must remain vigilant.
“It must not give the driver a false sense of security. Even when driving hands-free, the driver is still in control of the machine,” Mr. King said.