Cars with adaptive cruise control

Less stress in traffic and safety benefits too: adaptive cruise control will automatically keep its distance from any car in front

Dominic Tobin
Aug 30, 2019

Standard cruise control systems are perfect for long journeys when the road ahead is clear. They control the accelerator to keep the car travelling at a set speed, so driving is more relaxing and there's less risk of ending up going over the speed limit or slower than you intended to.

Unfortunately, a clear road is a distant dream to millions of British drivers who are more familiar with congestion, tailbacks and variable speed limits, each of which means disengaging cruise control and taking back full control of the car.

Unless adaptive cruise control is fitted, that is. With the ability to automatically adjust a car's speed to the traffic conditions - to ensure that you remain a safe distance behind the car in front - this is a technology that's ideal for many UK roads and is becoming increasingly available for mainstream family cars and even small vehicles such as the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta.


What is adaptive cruise control?

Cars with adaptive cruise control can automatically accelerate and brake to maintain a safe distance behind the car in front. When the path is clear, they continue at a pre-set speed - speeding up if a slower car pulls over and slowing down if another car that's travelling at a lower speed pulls in front of you.ย Most use radar and cameras to monitor the road. Advanced systems can also take control in stop-start traffic jams and even read road signs, potentially changing the car's speed depending upon the speed limit on that particular road.

How adaptive cruise control works

Drivers set their desired speed, as they would with standard cruise control, and the car travels at that speed as long as the road is clear.

The vehicle is constantly monitoring the road ahead.ย Some basic adaptive cruise control systems use radar alone, but many manufacturers also use cameras to provide more information about any upcoming traffic.

The car's sensors should be able to detect any slower vehicles ahead before there's any need to slow down. As the gap closes, the best adaptive cruise control systems gently slow the car to the same speed until both vehicles are travelling at the same rate, a safe distance apart.

If the vehicle ahead speeds up or turns off the road or into another lane, then the car will speed up until it reaches the pre-set speed again.

Advanced adaptive cruise control systems

Traffic jam assistance

Early cars with adaptive cruise control could only adjust speed within a small range. At slower speeds, drivers had to take control. Many modern systems now include traffic jam assistance that can bring the car to a halt in traffic jams and slowly crawl along when the tailback moves.ย 

Speed recognition

Speed limit recognition is commonly available on cars, although it's often optional. Front-facng cars can identify speed limit signs and display the limit to the driver on a dashboard screen. Some adaptive cruise systems link to this function and automatically reduce the pre-set speed when the car enters a higher or lower limit.

However, the operation of these systems is hit-and-miss. The car may not react quickly enough to motorway speed limits, putting you at risk of being caught by a speed camera when the limit is reduced.

They can also be caught out by speed limit signs on a lorry or a side road, so you may find your car suddenly trying to brake to from 70mph to 40mph on a clear A-Road, which can be alarming for other traffic, to say the least.


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