UK Steers Into the Future with Hands-Free Driving on Motorways

Ford Announces Hands-Free Motorway Driving

UK ministers have officially approved Ford’s BlueCruise “hands-off, eyes-on” technology for use on certain motorways. Drivers of the 2023 model of Ford’s electric Mustang Mach-E SUV will legally be able to take their hands off the wheel on the move. Thatcham Research, an automotive research firm, has made it clear that the Mustang Mach-E SUV is not a self-driving car but is “the next development in assisted driving technology”.

In the US and Canada, Ford’s technology has been available since 2021. Since then, more than 190,000 Ford and Lincoln vehicles have covered more than 60 million miles using the technology without any accidents reported.

The car can control steering, acceleration, and braking. Meaning it can keep a safe distance from other cars and even come to a complete stop in traffic jams. With a maximum speed of 80mph, it has cameras and sensors to detect lane markings and speed signs, as well as the position and speed of other cars on the road.

There are already strict rules and regulations for the first of its kind to hit the UK. The driver is not permitted to use their mobile, fall asleep or conduct any activity that takes attention away from the road when using the hand-free feature. To ensure the driver isn’t distracted, a camera will monitor their eyes. 2,300 miles of pre-mapped motorways in England, Scotland and Wales mark the “blue zones” where it’s been deemed safe to go hands-free and the car will not take over unless “the system feels it’s safe”. So, you won’t see anyone going hands-free around your local neighbourhood for now.

Plus, there’s a price tag. Not only will Ford’s Mustang Mach-E SUV set you back £50,830, BlueCruise, the hands-off technology, requires drivers to sign up for a monthly subscription. Although there is a 90-day free trial.

Ford’s BlueCruise technology is a “Level 2” driver assistance system, meaning it still requires a human driver to take control should something go wrong. The six levels of autonomous driving, defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers are as follows –

Level 0: Very little automation, with features providing some warnings or assistance like automatic braking.

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

Level 2: Partial automation, where two or more aspects of driving are controlled by technology, such as speed regulation and parking done by the car itself.

Level 3: Conditional automation, where the technology makes nearly all decisions on the road, although the driver still needs to be present to override any potential mistakes. At this stage, drivers could take their eyes off the road for certain periods of time.

Level 4: High automation, where technology does not require any human interaction in most circumstances. This is currently limited to certain areas where speed limits are low and roads are easy to read. This type of automation is currently restricted by regulation.

Level 5: Full automation, where no assistance is needed from a human driver at all.

We asked John Dillon, Head of Dispute Resolution at Watermans, for his thoughts on this move and if he thinks hand-free driving and driverless cars will create much safer roads.

“The move towards autonomous driving is ever growing and this is the next step in that direction. The most important aspect is that any step taken is done safely with the technology well tested. It appears that the marking of “blue zones” and selecting safe areas in designated motorways is the cautious approach required. Any improvement in making the roads a safer place is always welcomed but only time will tell how successful this new technology is at actually achieving that.”