Ford's BlueCruise driving assistant probed by US watchdog after deaths

Electric Mustang tech active right up to moment of crashes

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating an electric car maker whose self-driving-ish software was involved in a pair of fatal collisions. It's not Tesla this time, instead it's Ford's turn in the hot seat.

The carmaker's driver-assistance technology BlueCruise has been named as the subject of an NHTSA investigation involving a pair of fatal crashes in Texas and Pennsylvania. In both cases, Ford Mustang Mach-E electric vehicles struck stationary vehicles, similar to the crashes that triggered a multi-year NHTSA investigation into Tesla's Autopilot. 

"Initial investigation of both incidents confirmed that BlueCruise was engaged in each of the subject vehicles immediately prior to the collision," the NHTSA said in its preliminary investigation notice. That being the case, the investigation will focus on BlueCruise-equipped Mustang Mach-Es manufactured since 2021. 

The BlueCruise software, similar to Tesla's Autopilot, is a self-driving-ish product that's supposed to keep the vehicle in lane, change lanes as needed, and perform limited "hands-free" control of a vehicle. That is to say, the driver doesn't have to keep their hands on the wheel at all times, though it isn't marketed as self-driving.

Along with being available in the Mustang Mach-E, the software is loaded on several models of the F-150 truck, and the Ford Expedition Platinum SUV. Also like Tesla's Autopilot, it still requires drivers to pay attention to the road to some degree.

That was one of the key components of the NHTSA's case against Tesla when it investigated Elon's kit over whether Autopilot safety features properly forced drivers to keep their hands and eyes generally on the wheel and road. Late last year, the NHTSA decided Autopilot wasn't properly chiding negligent drivers, and that this was the primary reason why Teslas kept hitting emergency vehicles and other stopped cars.

Whether that will be the case in this instance remains to be seen, as the NHTSA's information on the investigation doesn't reveal much - only that both incidents happened at night, involved fatalities, and involved a Mach-E using BlueCruise hitting a stationary vehicle. 

With those facts known, investigators will now need to determine whether the cause was just human negligence, or if some failing on the part of BlueCruise to properly monitor drivers was to blame. 

Ford wasn't very forthcoming on the matter either, only telling us that it is "working with NHTSA to support its investigation," and that the agency's preliminary document "contains no findings of probable cause, and says, 'all aspects of the crash remain under investigation.'" ®

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