Jul 29, 2022 - Technology

What we're driving: Ford's BlueCruise hands-free highway helper

A person drives hands-free with Ford BlueCruise.

Photo courtesy of Ford

I've driven a number of vehicles recently with Ford's BlueCruise hands-free highway driving assistant, and here's my takeaway: It's still a work in progress.

The big picture: Ford is only the second automaker to offer a true hands-free highway driving system. GM's Super Cruise was first in 2017.

Although it's not as good as GM's system, Ford BlueCruise is more capable than the limited assisted-driving technology available on other cars.

  • That includes Tesla's improperly named "full self-driving" feature (which is not autonomous and advises drivers to keep their hands on the wheel).

How it works: Like GM's system, Ford BlueCruise only works on pre-mapped sections of certain roads at speeds up to 85 miles per hour.

  • Ford has designated 130,000 miles of these so-called Blue Zones across North American highways. (GM Super Cruise works on more than 200,000 miles.)
  • The system is activated by pushing the adaptive cruise control button on the steering wheel.
  • When the instrument cluster turns blue and the steering wheel icon shows the words "hands free," the driver knows they are in a Blue Zone and can safely remove their hands from the wheel.
  • An infrared camera monitors the driver's eyes to make sure they're paying attention. If not, the system will issue a warning and eventually hand control back to the driver.
  • If BlueCruise sees a situation it can't handle — like a curve — it will give the driver seven seconds to take back control. (The underlying lane-centering tech will continue to support the driver through the curve, Ford notes.)
  • Lane changes require the driver's input, but the system quickly resumes hands-free operation as soon as the vehicle is centered in the new lane.

My first encounter with BlueCruise was in an F-150 Lightning electric pickup I drove along with another journalist during a media event last May in Texas.

  • Candidly, it did not inspire confidence at the time.
  • In hands-free mode, the Lightning couldn't handle fairly modest highway curves and kept handing control back to me.
  • And I held my breath in the passenger seat when the Lightning drifted too close to a semi truck in the next lane as my driving partner's hands hovered nervously over the wheel.
  • Another time, the pickup seemed to be overcorrecting as it weaved back and forth, searching for the center of the lane.

Ford is aware of these issues and says it will continue to enhance BlueCruise's capabilities.

  • "Our first generation is purposely conservative," Ford chief engineer Chris Billman told me. "We will grow out of that and support sharper and sharper curves."

Key takeaway: I later drove a Ford Expedition with BlueCruise and a Lincoln Navigator with similar ActiveGlide technology, and both seemed more competent.

  • Or maybe I'm just getting more comfortable with what the tech can — and cannot — do.

The bottom line: Hands-free driving is available on the F-150 and Mustang Mach-E, as well as the Lightning, Expedition and Navigator vehicles I drove. Over-the-air software improvements will come later, Ford says.

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