US opens investigation into Ford’s BlueCruise driver assist feature after two fatal accidents

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What just happened? Exactly two weeks after getting the green light to allow drivers to use Ford’s BlueCruise on some stretches of UK highways, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened a safety investigation into the “Level 2” driver assistance system. The probe comes after two fatal accidents allegedly involving the feature.

The NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) recently received two incident reports involving Ford’s Mustang Mach-E. Both accidents were fatal nighttime collisions with stationary vehicles. Each resulted in one death. Although the ODI did not mention if the fatalities were passengers or drivers, it did determine that both had BlueCruise engaged at the time of the accidents.

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The ODI mentions that some Ford vehicles come equipped with Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0, a suite of Level 1 driver assistance technologies. BlueCruise became part of this package in 2021 but is only operational on pre-mapped roads. Like many similar systems, BlueCruise monitors driver attentiveness and issues an alert when it falls below a threshold, like taking your eyes off the road for over a few seconds.

The NHTSA says that this is a preliminary investigation. It is unclear what actions it will take if the ODI finds the system faulty during night driving conditions. It is equally unknown if the investigation will affect the UK’s recent decision to allow BlueCruise on Britain’s highways.

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This investigation will evaluate the system’s performance of the dynamic driving task and driver monitoring. The SGO reports cited in the Opening Resume can be found in the investigation file at NHTSA.gov under the following titles:

  • SGO 2021-01 report ID: 502-7268
  • SGO 2021-01 report ID: 502-7426

It’s important to understand BlueCruise is not autonomous driving (see Level explanations above). Like Tesla’s poorly named Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise, BlueCruise is not much more than a glorified cruise control. At Level 2 automation, a driver must be in the driver’s seat, alert, hands on the steering wheel, and ready to take control when necessary. Level 2 systems can perform simple automated driving functions, including acceleration, braking, keeping pace with traffic, and some steering.

Although BlueCruise is designated Level 2, it would be closer to something like Level 2.5 in that it has more automation but can only operate only on designated stretches of roadway. These sections are pre-mapped and approved by highway safety boards, so the autonomous system is already familiar with the road’s features. Because of this, BlueCruise is considered “hands-off, eyes-on.” Drivers may take their hands off the wheel, unlike Autopilot, but must still be ready to take over when necessary.



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