Motorway drivers can take hands off steering wheel under new law

Assisted driving technology approved for use in UK

Today, Ford announced that a “watershed moment” had been reached with the introduction of a Level 2 hands-free advanced driver assistance system. In a Europe-wide first, the “hands-off, eyes-on” technology has been approved for use on the motorway network in Great Britain.

The Ford BlueCruise technology was given the go-ahead by the Department for Transport, allowing it to be used on 2,300 miles of pre-mapped motorways in England, Scotland and Wales.

Drivers of the 2023 Ford Mustang Mach-E electric car can activate a subscription allowing them to use the hands-free technology.

These features have already been used frequently in the United States and Canada, with more than 64 million hands-free miles being driven.

The Level 2 technology still requires drivers to be alert at all times and ready to take control at any moment.

Martin Sander, general manager, Ford Model e, Europe, described the new rules as a “significant step forward for our industry”.

He added: “Modern highways can be demanding even for the most confident drivers, and intimidating for many. 

“BlueCruise can do some of the ‘heavy lifting’, to make highway driving less of a chore, and give drivers that little extra confidence and convenience.”

The BlueCruise system monitors road markings, speed signs and traffic conditions, allowing it to control steering, acceleration and braking.

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It also tracks lane positioning to ensure the vehicle maintains safe and consistent distances to vehicles ahead, including complete stops in traffic.

Tom Leggett, expert at Thatcham Research, explained that it was not self-driving technology, but would be the enabling technology for the future.

It is made through HD mapping and driver monitoring, with both monitoring the driver to ensure they are paying attention to the road ahead at all times.

He added: “Ford have done a very sensible thing. What they’ve done is looked at very specific routes, known as Blue Routes, which is where the system can be enabled.

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“So outside of these roads, you simply cannot turn the system on. At the moment, systems can only be used on the main motorways. So the M25, M4 M1, the key motorways we use,” he told BBC News.

To adapt to European roads, Ford engineers travelled 100,000 miles to validate the features, following 600,000 miles of testing in the US and Canada.

Jesse Norman, Transport Minister, praised the new technology, saying it was putting the UK at the forefront of innovation.

He added that this it will make driving smoother and easier, but can also help make roads safer by reducing scope for driver error.

Daniel Langkilde, CEO and Co-founder of Kognic said: “This is a huge milestone for the UK – both for consumers and the automotive industry alike. 

“Ford’s BlueCruise technology allows people to dip their toes in the water when it comes to autonomous driving. 

“And since nearly 85 percent of cars on the road have no driver-assist systems at all, this is just the start. We can expect to see Level2+ features in all cars over the next 15 years.”

Alongside the Mustang Mach-E, Ford is planning to have nine all-electric vehicles on offer in Europe by 2024.

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