A man is shown sitting in the drivers seat of a Ford vehicle while test driving Ford's BlueCruise at a Ford dealer.

What Is Hands-Free Driving and Are We Ready for It?

If you’ve taken a trip to your local Ford dealer lately, you likely heard buzz words like “semi-autonomous driving” and “BlueCruise.” You’re not alone if you immediately think of the Jetsons and their flying cars. While BlueCruise won’t make your Ford fly, it just might be the next best thing. So, what exactly is semi-autonomous driving? Are we ready for it and, more importantly, is it safe?

Semi-autonomous driving is often referred to as “hands-free driving” and gives you the ability to leave many driving tasks up to your vehicle in exchange for being able to sit back and enjoy the drive. Ford’s BlueCruise is a prime example of this groundbreaking technology. The feature reduces your stress behind the wheel by taking over steering, handling, and maneuvering even in congested situations as long as a few requirements are met.

But is it that easy? Can it be trusted? While it’s a far cry from self-driving vehicles or Jetson-inspired flying cars, semi-autonomous driving and tools like BlueCruise usher the automotive industry into a new era of innovation. The question is, “Are we ready to harness this type of power?”

What Is Ford BlueCruise?

BlueCruise is Ford’s version of hands-free driving and is available on over 130,000 miles of pre-mapped roadways known as Hands-Free Blue Zones throughout the United States and Canada. BlueCruise uses specialized technology to streamline your drive, allowing you to better focus on what lies ahead and enjoy your experience in the driver’s seat. So, how does it work?

BlueCruise relies on technology like Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go, Lane Centering, and Speed Sign Recognition. These tools provide BlueCruise with the speed limit, lane markings on the road, and other data. In doing so, BlueCruise ensures the Ford stays in its lane and abides by all traffic rules.

The feature only works when the conditions are perfect. In other words, you’re traveling on a compatible roadway and Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go is engaged. Initially, your hands must be on the steering wheel to activate features like Lane Centering. However, once you’ve successfully launched BlueCruise, the tool will alert you when you can remove your hands from the wheel. When this occurs, BlueCruise safely steers, brakes, accelerates, and maneuvers the vehicle based on traffic conditions, the roadway, and the set speed limit.

One of the most impressive aspects of BlueCruise is that the tool constantly monitors the traffic ahead of you. It senses when a vehicle ahead changes speed and adjusts your cruising speed as needed to maintain a safe distance. Through this cutting-edge technology and the use of advanced roadway mapping, cameras, and sensors, we’ve finally taken travel to the next level–one that many believed only resided in movies.

The black interior of a 2022 Ford Mustang Mach-E shows BlueCruise in action.

How BlueCruise Keeps You Safe

Although hands-free driving is possible, does it mean that it’s the safest and most responsible way to drive? It depends on your expectations and your perspective. If you think that your responsibilities in the driver’s seat end once BlueCruise is engaged, you’d better think again.

Ford puts several elements in place to ensure you’re still calling the shots even when BlueCruise is engaged. No, you can’t crawl into the backseat for a nap when BlueCruise is on. For one, the driver-facing camera will immediately take notice since it constantly monitors your eye movement to ensure you’re paying attention to the road. Once the system detects your eyes aren’t on the road, BlueCruise disengages and you’ll have to put your hands back on the steering wheel.

Along with keeping your focus on the road ahead, you always need to be ready to take control of the steering wheel. For example, BlueCruise will disengage when it detects that you’re traveling on an unsafe or unmapped roadway. A simple alert on the instrument cluster lets you know that it’s time to take over steering as BlueCruise disengages.

How Safe Is It?

Many critics argue that technology like BlueCruise is not yet ready for widespread use. Ford, however, spent years testing the feature before its official debut. Ford put BlueCruise to the ultimate test and sent a fleet of vehicles on the road trip of a lifetime. Navigating over 500,000 miles, Ford’s fleet traveled across 37 states, five Canadian provinces, and through a plethora of road and weather conditions. The epic journey ensured the program’s integrity and finetuned the technology to ready it for the masses.

As part of the journey, Ford asked its drivers to test the tool in various landscapes, elevations, road conditions, and weather conditions. Drivers reported that, despite long drives, BlueCruise helped them stay focused and kept their energy levels high, a stark contrast to when tasked with driving themselves. For Ford, the findings are incredible and add to the tool’s safety, seeing as many accidents occur when drivers are distracted or tired. In short, the automaker is confident that BlueCruise will revitalize vehicle travel as we know it, making it safer and more enjoyable mile after mile.

The black interior of a Ford shows BlueCruise in close up.

BlueCruise and the Ford Lineup

Only two vehicles in the Ford lineup offer BlueCruise–the all-electric Mustang Mach-E and the best-selling F-150. BlueCruise comes standard on the F-150 Limited and the Mach-E California Route 1, Premium, and First Edition trims. However, Ford promises that BlueCruise will soon make its way to more vehicles in the fleet courtesy of over-the-air software updates that will deliver this new technology to eligible models, one of which may be sitting in your garage.

Ford’s over-the-air updates also ensure that you’re running the latest version of BlueCruise. As a relatively new technology, BlueCruise is still being tested and finetuned, which means it will continue to evolve. As more vehicles in the Ford fleet add this feature, more drivers will experience this revolutionary tool and how it will dramatically affect their time behind the wheel.

Are We Ready for Hands-Free Driving?

The question still stands, “Is hands-free driving about to make our travels better or worse?” Once again, it’s all a matter of perspective. However, most will agree that features like BlueCruise will likely elevate our travels and make our time in the driver’s seat more enjoyable than ever before.

Thoroughly vetted and tested for quality and operability, Ford covered all its bases before introducing BlueCruise to the masses. The automaker designed BlueCruise to enhance our safety rather than sacrifice it. By putting stringent safety protocols in place and conditional requirements for operation, BlueCruise optimizes your focus, minimizes distraction, and promotes responsible driving habits. Sure, you can take your hands off the wheel, but as always, your eyes need to stay on the road ahead.

As with any new technology, it’s natural to be intrigued and even apprehensive. BlueCruise is no exception. If you’re expecting BlueCruise to take over the wheel so that you can scroll through your phone and browse social media or lean the seat back and take a nap, you’ll be highly disappointed. But, if you’re expecting a tool that will revolutionize your time behind the wheel by mitigating the stress and fatigue that often comes with long drives, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And, while it’s not a flying car, BlueCruise is undoubtedly the next best thing for now.