Ford BlueCruise driver assist under federal scrutiny following 2 deaths

the cockpit of a ford mustang mach-e being operated in BlueCruise
Enlarge / BlueCruise allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel but not their eyes off the road.


The federal regulator responsible for road safety has opened yet another probe into the safety of a hands-free driver assistance system, we learned this morning. And no, it’s not a system from Tesla. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigation has opened a preliminary investigation into Ford’s BlueCruise system, following a pair of fatal crashes, both of which occurred at night.

Ford first introduced BlueCruise in 2021. Like the similar General Motors Super Cruise, but unlike Tesla Autopilot, BlueCruise has been designed with a tightly controlled operational design domain (ODD) that only allows it to be engaged on restricted access, divided lane highways that have been lidar-mapped in advance.

Additionally, like Super Cruise but unlike Tesla’s far more dangerous system, there is an infrared gaze-tracking driver monitoring camera that will disengage the system if it determines the driver is not actually paying attention to the road.

So unlike Autopilot, drivers using BlueCruise can take their hands off the wheel, but they are still expected to keep paying attention to the road ahead, ready to take control at a moment’s notice if necessary.

(That makes these so-called Level 2 assists; Mercedes-Benz has a more advanced Level 3 assist that can allow drivers to stop paying attention, but it will only operate in congested traffic jams and up to 40 mph, and then only in California or Nevada.)

Despite the safeguards of a tightly geofenced, driver-monitored ODD, BlueCruise is not foolproof. In March, the National Transportation Safety Board—which investigates crashes but, unlike NHTSA, has no regulatory authority to compel an automaker to do anything—opened an investigation into a fatal crash involving a Ford Mustang Mach-E in San Antonio, Texas, on February 24.

Now, NHTSA says it is aware of a second fatal BlueCruise crash, which, like the San Antonio incident, also happened at night. It has opened a preliminary investigation to determine if the system is defective.

Ars contacted Ford, which told us that “we are working with NHTSA to support its investigation.”

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