Ford's New App Is an Exercise in Victim Blaming

"The dead pedestrian wasn't carrying a phone with the app."

Ford BlueCruise System
Ford's Self-Driving BlueCruise System.

Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Co. is developing a smartphone app that could warn car drivers of people walking or cycling, even if they are out of direct sight. According to the company, the app on the pedestrian's phone uses Bluetooth to broadcast their location. The vehicle calculates the crash risk and alerts drivers with graphics on the in-vehicle screen and audio alerts.

"Newer Ford vehicles already with Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology can detect and help warn drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders and others—and even apply brakes if drivers do not respond in time," said Jim Buczkowski, executive director of research and advanced engineering at Ford. "We are now exploring ways to expand vehicle sensing capability, for areas drivers cannot see, to help people drive even more confidently on roads increasingly shared by others using their two feet or two wheels."

Why This Matters to Treehugger

Safe streets and walkable communities are key to reducing our carbon emissions from driving. While smaller cars have better fuel efficiency, fewer emissions, and are significantly safer for pedestrians, light trucks (pickups, SUVs, crossovers, and minivans) account for more than 75% of all new vehicle sales. Meanwhile, pickups and SUVs, heavier vehicles with higher front-end profiles, are at least twice as likely as cars to kill the walkers, joggers, and children they hit. Treehugger prioritizes pedestrian safety and advocates for regulations making light trucks more sustainable and less deadly.

The statement explains how the system would use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) tech to "complement other technologies by communicating with other similarly equipped devices with sufficient range for alerts with the potential of advancing safety through awareness of pedestrians, bicyclists and more. BLE also does not rely on line-of-sight detection like cameras or radar, which means pedestrians and others can be detected while hidden behind obstructions such as buildings. This is especially relevant to the stress of big-city driving on shared roads."

Ford is part of the Vulnerable Road User Safety Consortium that was formed by vehicle, bicycle, ridesharing, and tech companies to find technological solutions to rising crashes with pedestrians, bicyclists, and others. They have all been working on this for years; we have seen this movie before.

bike to vehicle communication
via. Bike to Vehicle

In 2018, Ford announced a system using cellular communication to allow vehicles to communicate with other vehicles, pedestrian devices, bikes, and roadside infrastructure, including traffic signs and construction zones, called V2X or vehicle to everything. Some saw this technology as key to making autonomous cars work, with Bez at Singletrack noting that "to solve the problems of autonomous vehicles one must not only control the vehicle, one must control the system."

For it to work properly, everyone has to have the app so the vehicles will know where everyone is. So first it might well be compulsory for people on bikes, and then at some point, people on foot if they want the traffic light to change for them. As Bez noted, "A V2X app on a smartphone is easy enough, but people will still try to roam freely. So a jaywalking law will cover off those tricky incidents where cars fail to detect people in unexpected places: if the worst happens, at least the vehicle maker won't be liable. Cross at the V2X-enabled crossing, or on your head be it."

smart helmet on cyclist
Volvo tried this with a smart helmet that talked to the phone and the car.


As we noted then, this technology isn't about making the world safer for pedestrians and cyclists; it's about making the world safer for vehicles. Instead of fixing the roads, the drivers, and the cars, they will fix the pedestrians.

It's about shifting responsibility and blame from the drivers to the people around the vehicles. "The cyclist or pedestrian wasn't carrying a phone with the app" is the new "the cyclist wasn't wearing a helmet" or "the pedestrian was wearing a black hoodie." 

In its statement, Ford surprisingly acknowledges the number of pedestrians killed by cars and trucks in the U.S. The company stated: "National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data estimates traffic fatalities increased 13 percent to 7,342 in 2021 versus the prior year, while bicyclist traffic fatalities increased 5 percent — to 1,000 — during the same window."

There are many other things they could acknowledge: that the design of their popular pickup trucks and SUVs disproportionately kill people who walk and bike, that looking at big screens in cars is distracting and maybe now having to look for graphics of people and bikes is perhaps not a good idea, and that Intelligent Speed Assistance or speed governors might be a fine idea. Or how about instead of Ford Co-Pilot360 technology, they design their vehicles to European safety standards?

Instead, they would rather be able to blame the victim for not downloading their app.