Cruise control is nothing new and has been used on cars since, at least, 1900. It’s basically the autonomous technology equivalent of leaning a brick on the accelerator so your speed stays the same.
However, traditional cruise control has one big flaw: other road users.
If the road was empty, life would be easy. Just set the cruise control to 70 mph and breeze down the motorway without a care in the world.
But the motorway is never empty. It’s full of caravans, articulated lorries and middle lane hoggers. And turns your steady 70 mph journey into a roller coaster of braking and accelerating.
And that’s where a slightly fancier car technology system — adaptive cruise control — comes in.
What is adaptive cruise control?
Adaptive cruise control (ACC) is basically a smarter version of traditional cruise control that automatically slows down and speeds up automatically to match the pace of the car in front of you.
As with traditional cruise control, you set your maximum speed but then ACC uses a radar (or some times a laser) sensor to watch the car ahead of you. It then alters your speed to keep you a consistent two, three or four seconds behind it. Again, the driver can usually set the following time.
Adaptive cruise control will usually deactivate whenever the driver touches the accelerator, brake or AAC activation button. On manual cars, pressing the clutch will often have the same effect.
Do not assume this is how your call will work though as different systems work in slightly different ways. Always read the driver’s manual fully before using the system.
Is adaptive cruise control safe?
AAC is a fairly safe piece of technology but it’s important to recognise it’s limitations.
First, adaptive cruise control is not the same as autonomous driving technology. The only thing AAC controls is your speed. As a driver, you must keep control of the steering.
Secondly, while ACC is usually paired with autonomous emergency braking, you’ve got to keep your attention on the road. While ACC will slow your speed if the car you are following brakes suddenly, you should always be ready to step in should the conditions demand it.