Adaptive Cruise Control Helps Make Roads Safer

AAA Mid States

Adaptive Cruise Control is an advanced driver assistance system that enhances the conventional cruise control feature found in many modern vehicles. While traditional cruise control systems maintain a constant speed set by the driver, adaptive cruise control adds an extra layer of intelligence by automatically adjusting the vehicle’s speed based on the traffic conditions ahead.

ACC functions by sensory technology installed within vehicles such as cameras, lasers and radar equipment, which creates an idea of how close one car is to another or other objects on the roadway. For this reason, ACC is the basis for future car intelligence.

Once the adaptive cruise control is activated, the system continuously monitors the traffic in front of the vehicle. If the system detects a slower-moving vehicle ahead, it automatically adjusts the speed to maintain a safe following distance. The driver can usually adjust the following distance to their preference using the system’s settings.

When the road ahead clears or the slower vehicle changes lanes, the adaptive cruise control system can resume the set speed without any intervention from the driver. The system seamlessly accelerates back to the desired speed.

Some key advantages of adaptive cruise control include an increase in road safety, as cars with this technology will keep adequate spacing between them and other vehicles. These space-mindful features also will help prevent accidents that result from an obstructed view or close following distance. Similarly, ACC will help maximize traffic flow because of its spatial awareness. As a driver, you don’t have to worry about your speed and instead you can focus on what is going on around you.

Adaptive cruise control is a significant step towards semi- autonomous driving as it allows the vehicle to actively respond to the surrounding traffic without requiring constant input from the driver. However, it’s essential to remember that adaptive cruise control is not a substitute for attentive and responsible driving. The driver must remain focused on the road, keep their hands on the steering wheel and be ready to take control of the vehicle if necessary. Additionally, the system may have limitations in certain driving conditions, such as heavy rain, snow or areas with poor lane markings.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently conducted a study on mental models, or thought processes, of drivers using ADAS, specifically adaptive cruise control. Drivers were split into two groups (a regular group and an enhanced group) and were given different events, both rare and routine, to use the new technology. According to the study, drivers’ understanding of ACC improved as they gained more experience with the system. Those who experienced rare events displayed a higher level of understanding in a quicker time frame. The study explained that it took the regular group four sessions to match the level of system understanding exhibited by the experienced group’s first session.

Results from this study have positive implications in terms of ADAS usage and exposure and the resulting impact on drivers’ mental models. Since accurate mental models promote the safe operation of in-vehicle technology, one practical implication that can be drawn from this study is that when introducing ADAS-equipped vehicles to new users, an effective strategy should consider targeted exposure to different situations either through direct experience or through training.

For more information on this study, visit the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety at