Adaptive cruise control: what is it?
Adaptive cruise control is essentially the same kind of speed-sustaining cruise control system that most drivers have already been familiar with for some time, albeit somewhat more sophisticated. The new adaptive cruise control does not just maintain a selected speed, as is the case with traditional cruise control, which is capable of adjusting up or down at the request of the driver, sometimes in increments of 10 kilometres per hour, but also alters the speed of a vehicle autonomously based upon the proximity of the vehicle directly in front.
Where did it start?
Laser-based adaptive cruise control systems have been offered by Toyota and Mitsubishi on some domestic Japanese luxury models since the early 1990s. However, the first actual radar-based system, and the original adaptive cruise control system intended for worldwide distribution, was the Mercedes-Benz “Distronic” system, which the company introduced in late 1998 on the W220-generation S-Class. Two decades on, the commonality of adaptive cruise control has increased exponentially and today it is even being made available on small hatchbacks. Adaptive cruise control is now being offered across the range of the new-generation Ford Focus, which also provides a rare switchable system option, giving the driver the choice to select either regular cruise control or the new self-adjusting adaptive style.
What is adaptive cruise control?
A modern adaptive cruise control system uses information taken from radar, one or multiple cameras, or laser sensors (or a mixture of all three) to monitor the distance and speed of the vehicle in front of you and will either accelerate or brake in order to keep a specific distance, depending on your maximum desired speed set. Adaptive cruise control may also sometimes incorporate a “stop and go” function that literally brings the car to a halt in heavy city or motorway traffic and then go back to the set speed after the front vehicle once again begins moving. Within congested motorway traffic, a modern adaptive cruise control system allows the driver to just steer the car, resulting in massive reductions in fatigue and stress.
How it works
When an adaptive cruise control system is activated, the instrument pack will reveal a small distance schematic, usually in the form of several blocks that fill in when the set distance between your vehicle and the one in front increases. Although, in some instances, the schematic may even appear as a picture of two vehicles growing further apart or closer together, depending on which distance you selected.
Almost all forms of modern adaptive cruise control systems offer a minimum of three set distances that can be adjusted either with a button located on the steering wheel or via a dedicated column stalk that comes with its own controls. Cars with adaptive cruise control slow down whenever the vehicle in front does in order to maintain that set distance, but will accelerate again to the programmed speed as your car regains speed. As is the case with standard forms of cruise control, adaptive systems that are less sophisticated may overrun and gain speeds higher than selected when going down inclines, making it important to be aware of any limitations in your particular system.