Ford's Hands-Free Parking 

Recognising that winning the argument of who is the better driver could well be grounds for divorce; Ford is now offering Active Park Assist on its latest Focus models. Enabling one to sit back, without touching the steering wheel, while the car steers itself into a suitable gap APA ensures that one can park first time, every time and so avoid these acrimonious arguments.

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Available as a standard feature on the Focus Titanium X and as a part of the £525 Convenience Pack (which also includes powerfold mirrors) on other models in the Titanium series, it is simple to use. As one drives along the street at low speed (19mph or lower) while looking for a parking space, the APA ultrasonic sensor low on the front wing checks on the size of any gaps between parked cars. A gap only has to be 20 per cent longer than the car i.e. about 5.25m (17.2ft) overall in the case of the 5-door Focus. Once a suitable gap has been identified, the driver is notified and the display in the central console gives instructions to engage forward or reverse gear, as appropriate, while leaving the driver controlling the brake and accelerator. Then, with hands off the wheel, the system turns the steering wheel and the car itself steers into the gap. While doing this, the front and rear proximity sensors provide the usual audible indication to enable the driver to judge how close he is to surrounding vehicles. When the gap is small multiple back/forward movements may be required before finally having neatly parked about 6 inches from the kerb.

There are, in fact, two sensors -- one on each side of the car. However, the one on the nearside would normally be selected as the offside one will only be employed when looking for a parking space on the right hand side of a one-way street.

In practice, it is very disconcerting at first to see the steering wheel turn of its own volition. You feel as if you are not in control and there is a strong temptation to seize the wheel. You can, however, take control any time you want by grabbing the steering wheel. Overall, the system works effectively even though it is possible to be lulled into a false sense of security and lose concentration and then, before you realise it, roll into the parked car behind.

I know that we all claim to be good drivers and have no difficulty in parking. Nevertheless, I don’t think that many of us can guarantee to park correctly first time every time. Furthermore, if we misjudge our position badly we could easily scrape (or even worse) those expensive alloy wheels against the kerb.

I think that APA is a gadget that merits serious consideration as it will reduce driving stress and could well, in the longer term, save money. Although a great many of us cannot afford the top of the line Titanium X, in which it is standard, in view of the amount of sophisticated technology involved it appears reasonable value as a factory-fitted option on other models in the range.

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Comment by adrianmorant, 23 May 2011 15:18

As you say, the driver is always responsible and must always be alert. That is why I said it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security.

The point was to remind people that, even if they are not using their hands (on the wheel) they still need to use their mind. After all, a car is a lethal weapon if misused.

Comment by Terfyn, 21 May 2011 18:24

This is an option on the Skoda Yeti (and others in the VAG range)I avoided it when iI bought mine in 2009 as I felt that it relied on the perfect situation to operate correctly. It is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that (1) the area, located by the sensors, is indeed satisfactory and(2)any automatic action by the car will not endanger either passers by or other vehicles.
I rely on my reversing sensors to warn me of any obstacle, especially anyone moving into the path of my reversing car. Because I am steering and setting the speed, I have control of not only the speed but the direction at all times.

The warning must be that the driver is always responsible for the actions of the vehicle. Any device that removes this control must be treated with great care.

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