Adaptive Cruise Control: The Evolution Of Cruising

By Eric Driver

Back in the 1950s, Chrysler introduced a feature into their automobiles that allowed drivers to set the speed at which they were driving. Rather than having to actively watch their speedometer and make continuous adjustments, motorists could program the system to maintain a defined speed. There was one problem: the feature could not identify the distance between the driver's vehicle and objects that lay in front of him. Placing too much trust in the system often resulted in rear-end traffic collisions.

Automakers have developed a new version of the traditional feature: adaptive cruise control (ACC). Below, you'll discover how the technology works and the advantages it offers. We'll also take a brief look at what the future holds for ACC.

How Does Adaptive Cruise Control Work?

The newer system not only allows drivers to set a defined speed, but it also keeps track of objects that lie in their path. That includes other cars, pedestrians, and stationary objects. The feature is programmed to maintain a specific "safe distance" between the driver's vehicle and everything else. When it identifies a need, the ACC will moderate the throttle and apply the brakes.

There are a couple ways in which adaptive cruise control can monitor the landscape in front of the driver. The first is by using microwave radar. The second is to rely upon cameras that are positioned at the front of the vehicle. When either technology identifies a potential hazard, it will calculate the speed and distance required to maintain the motorist's safety. Then, it will send that data to the car's computer, which will make the necessary adjustments to the throttle and brakes.

The Advantages Of ACC

A large number of annual traffic accidents are rear-end collisions. In fact, according to data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 30% of the 6 million reported traffic accidents in 2005 were rear-ends. Because adaptive cruise control monitors the presence and speed of objects that lie in the driver's path, it can help prevent rear-end collisions.

Another benefit of ACC is that it can bring a vehicle to a full stop, if necessary. Then, when vehicles ahead of the motorist begins to move forward, the system can instruct the car's computer to accelerate. This can be especially useful in congested traffic.

Into The Future

Automakers are continuing to develop the technology that drives adaptive cruise control systems. They are integrating other safety features, such as air bags, seat belts, and lane change warning devices to improve overall safety. For example, the ACC sensors can send data to the car's computer that will instruct it to prepare the air bags for deployment if a collision is imminent.

While adaptive cruise control systems are costly and therefore, more prevalent in high-end vehicles, that is likely to change over the next few years. The technology will become less expensive. Declining costs will encourage automakers to install ACC within a greater portion of their respective fleets. Within a decade, most drivers will enjoy the safety advantages these systems offer. - 29952

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