What is adaptive cruise control?
Adaptive cruise control is a driving assistance feature that can control a car's accelerator and brakes to reduce your workload behind the wheel. It's essentially an evolution of traditional cruise control that's able to not only hold your speed, but also follow the traffic ahead and maintain a safe distance. In some cars, the adaptive cruise control system only works at motorway speeds. In others, it can safely bring the car to a stop of the traffic ahead slows down, and then get the car moving again when the road clears.
How does adaptive cruise control work?
Standard cruise control has been a feature on cars for quite some time now and the way that the most basic version works is simple. You reach the desired speed, press the cruise control button and the car will continue to continue along at that speed until you either use the brakes or turn the system off manually. If the car ahead brakes, standard cruise control won't react.
The principle behind adaptive cruise control is similar - but thanks to the adoption of a camera (or cameras) to the front of a car, it can essentially 'see' the road ahead (you can watch our Kona Electric video to see a car with such features in action). This makes the car aware of the gap to the car ahead, meaning not only can the adaptive cruise control hold your speed, it can also hold the space, even if the car ahead slows. If the car ahead speeds up, the adaptive cruise control will only accelerate you back to the speed you have set. It won't go beyond that.
The latest adaptive cruise control systems can also work in low-speed traffic, creeping the car forwards, and stopping and starting with the congestion ahead. If you do press the brakes (or, in the case of manual cars, press the clutch pedal), then the adaptive cruise control switches off, putting you back in full control.
What are the benefits?
Obviously, the main benefit is that it can make driving both on long journeys and in congested cities that little bit more relaxing, not to mention easier on the right leg as you can take your foot off the accelerator entirely.
The next benefit is increased safety. In normal driving circumstances, it will automatically prevent you from getting too close to the car in front and may even pick up developing dangers before you have the chance to see them yourself. Cars with adaptive cruise control are also often fitted with other features like lane assistance and steering assistance technology, as well as blind-spot monitoring, which all combine to increase safety.
Interestingly, your insurance premiums might be slightly lower if your car has adaptive cruise control fitted, as the camera equipment it comes with is considered to be a safety-improving tech.
But is it safe?
Many drivers will be understandably reluctant to hand over this kind of decision-making to the car that they’re driving. After all, accidents tend to occur through unexpected actions and poor decisions, and there may be a fear that adaptive cruise control will not be able to react quickly enough to the circumstances ahead.
But, systems are now so sophisticated that the reaction time can often be faster than a human driver’s. The technology itself is also virtually 100% reliable. That said, there are certain road and weather conditions that can affect the operation of the detection system. These include when there is heavy rain or fog or when the sensors are covered in mud or snow. You should always be ready to take back full control.
Adaptive cruise control systems can, in some cars, ask for you to take control with short notice when road works, faded white lines or even heavy rainfall impede the technology's 'vision'.
Is adaptive cruise control worth it?
If you’re the sort of driver who does big miles on the motorway, or finds themself regularly stuck in traffic, adaptive cruise control can be a massive help.
And even if you don't regularly drive big distances, you'll likely appreciate the technology on that occasional long journey. So even if it's not a priority, if you find a car within your budget that has adaptive cruise control, happy days.