„Green light” for „hands-off, eyes-on” on UK motorways

On April 13, 2023, the UK Department for Transport gave Ford Motor Company permission to use Advanced Driver Assistance Technology (BlueCruise), enabling “hands-off, eyes-on” driving on selected motorways in England, Scotland and Wales, referred to as the Blue Zones, currently covering approximately 3,700 km.

The basis of the BlueCruise system is the intelligent adaptive cruise control IACC (Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control), which allows the vehicle to move in traffic taking into account the prevailing conditions, allowing for short-term distraction of the driver. The system monitors the surrounding area, including road signs, controls acceleration, braking and positioning of the vehicle in the lane, thanks to which it maintains a safe and constant distance from the vehicles ahead, with the ability to come to a complete stop if necessary. A combination of radars and cameras is used for the perception of the surroundings, which can detect and monitor the position and speed of other vehicles on the road. The forward-facing camera detects lane markings and speed limit signs. The maximum vehicle speed with the system active is 80 miles per hour (approx. 130 km/h).

In addition, the system controls the driver’s activity and attention using an infrared camera that monitors the driver’s head position and eyeballs, even when wearing sunglasses. If driver distraction is detected, warning messages are displayed, followed by audible alerts, and if the driver does not respond, the brakes are applied, the vehicle slows down while maintaining control of the steering wheel. Similar actions are taken if the driver does not put his hands on the steering wheel when “asked” to do so when leaving the Blue Zone.

For the implementation of the system, a number of tests were carried out, both on closed test tracks and in public traffic. The safety of the driver, passengers and other road users was crucial, both for the development of the new technology and at the stage of homologation tests. The system has been approved by the VCA (Vehicle Certification Agency), the UK vehicle type approval authority – currently for 2023 Ford Mustang Mach-E cars.

The “green light” for advanced driver assistance technology from the British Department for Transport may have a positive impact on the implementation of similar systems also on the roads of other European countries. The benefits of using similar solutions include increasing the comfort of driving a vehicle, improving road traffic, but above all, improving road safety by reducing the possibility of human error.

It should be noted that driving automation systems used by different vehicle manufacturers are often characterized by similar functionalities, but may differ in the scope of possibilities or specific limitations, which may not be clear to vehicle users. It is necessary to define transparent rules for naming and defining such systems, and to standardize the ways of describing the operation of individual functionalities that automate driving, especially for the purposes of promotion and advertising.

Research carried out by the AV-PL-ROAD project consortium, which also included the Motor Transport Institute, showed that the interfaces of individual vehicle manufacturers differ significantly and the driver has limited ability to use the skills of operating systems previously acquired in other vehicles. Actions should be taken to support the development of human-machine interfaces to make them easier to use, more intuitive to understand, and unified for one category of solutions.

In the UK, the principles developed together by vehicle manufacturers and the government, with the support of the Advertising Standards Authority, provide the basis for responsible advertising and communication about autonomous vehicles and their capabilities. It was agreed that the functions available in vehicles, in particular those related to autonomous driving and driver assistance, must be described in an understandable and unambiguous way so as not to mislead users. The manufacturer is obliged to clearly define the circumstances when the functionality may not work properly. In addition, driving assistance functions should not be described in a way that could give the impression that they are autonomous driving functions.

Taking such actions helps to avoid misunderstandings, has a positive effect on trust in new technologies, so that users are more willing to use them, and this can increase road safety.

Grabarek I., Kozłowski M., Czerepicki A., Bęczkowska S., Zysk Z., Kruszewski M., Pełka M., Balke I., Lewandowski S., Assumptions for the “Roadmap” introduction of autonomous vehicles (CAD/CAV) in Poland, Report on task 3 of the AV-PL-ROAD project, ITS own resources.