The arrival of Ford’s new BlueCruise – the first legal hands-free driving product available on UK roads – raises a whole series of questions that fleets need to answer, says FleetCheck.
Peter Golding, managing director at the fleet software specialist, said, “The fleet industry has been discussing the theoretical implications of hands-free driving for some time but the real-world availability of BlueCruise has brought everything into immediate and sharp relief.
“Probably the first question it raises is a really fundamental one – do fleets feel that it is safe for their drivers to be using the technology? Obviously, it has been officially signed off and Ford say that millions of miles have been safely covered, but do employers feel those assurances are sufficient for what remains quite a fundamental shift in driving practice?
“Certainly, allowing its use on your fleet would mean that it needed to be incorporated into your risk management policy and that drivers understand how and when it can be used. This is a legitimate criticism that is sometimes levelled at less sophisticated Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, that drivers are not given sufficient information about how to integrate devices into their day-to-day driving while also recognising their limitations.
“With BlueCruise, there appears to be a high level of safeguarding built in, with the driver being monitored to ensure they are paying attention to the road, but fleets providing vehicles still need to ensure they have a high degree of understanding when using the technology.”
Peter said that a further question was a financial one. BlueCruise is being sold on a subscription basis on £17.99 per month to drivers of the Mustang Mach E electric car.
“This is not necessarily a new idea. BMW has been selling several of its options on a subscription basis for a while, including some related to safety, but it does raise issues.
“Who pays for this? Does the company feel that £17.99 per month is worth spending to reduce stress on motorway driving and even potentially improve safety? If the driver wants to pay, do you as an employer feel that this is appropriate? These all need consideration.
Here’s how it works:
For BlueCruise to activate, drivers must first have their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
When directed by the instrument display, drivers can take their hands off the steering wheel while keeping their eyes on the road, allowing the vehicle to:
- Keep pace with other vehicles up to a chosen maximum speed and down to a complete stop, making it less demanding than ever to negotiate traffic on Blue Zone highways whether free-flowing or stop-start traffic jams
- Adjust the vehicle’s maximum speed to limits posted at the roadside, on overhead gantries and in the navigation system, as well as using Predictive Speed Assist that smoothly adjusts speed as drivers approach a sharp curve
- Position itself according to lane markings, including using In-Lane Repositioning to make the experience feel more natural by subtly shifting away from vehicles in adjacent lanes – something drivers tend to do intuitively when alongside larger trucks
- Allow drivers to temporarily retake control of steering, before automatically reactivating BlueCruise steering control if the driver removes their hands from the wheel while still within a Blue Zone.