Using adaptive cruise control - The pros and cons

Has it ever happened to you before? You set your car in cruise control and then fly past the set speed, sending you on a wild ride that required your defensive driving to save the day.
It happens and some auto makers in the past blamed that on floor mats or a sticky accelerator pedal, but auto experts point at software malfunction.
What is Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)? It is a device in a motor vehicle which can be switched on to maintain a selected constant speed without the use of the accelerator pedal.
Also known as automatic cruise control, active cruise control, cooperative adaptive cruise control, intelligent cruise control or radar cruise control, the technology automatically speeds up and slows down your car to keep a set following distance relative to the car ahead. It also provides some braking.
However, it does not replace the braking system.

What it does
ACC can increase or decrease your car’s speed to maintain a following distance that you set. Advanced versions can even slow and stop your car in traffic jams, then accelerate for you.

The technology behind it
One or more sensors – including radar and computer-connected cameras – read the road ahead of you for traffic. They are capable of reading and responding to any cars that are in front of you in your lane.

What you need to do
Accelerate to your set speed, then turn on the ACC. Tell the ACC how close you want your following distance gap to be (generally short, medium and long distances) and it’s then set to begin working. However, you should still stay aware of your surroundings. In bad weather and other unsafe driving conditions, it is advised not to use ACC. Refer to your owner’s manual for more information.

Tips for using
• Be aware that ACC may not work effectively in certain types of weather conditions. Some examples of these include heavy fog or rain; having dirt covering the sensors; or when the roadways are slippery. These systems also may not work in tunnels.
• ACC allows you to spend less energy maintaining your following distance with the cars in front of you. You should use this opportunity to pay more attention to the traffic mix, including cars ahead of you and in adjacent lanes.
• Check your owner’s manual to see if your ACC is capable of slowing your car to a stop or if you need to stop on your own.
Drivers who use cruise control and speed-limiting devices know they can provide real benefits, particularly driver comfort and compliance with speed limits.

The dangers
Research, however, suggests a downside to these technologies. Drivers have less control overtaking other vehicles and managing the direction of their own vehicles, and have longer reaction times.
The study by France-based VINCI Autoroutes Foundation for Responsible Driving  measured the effects of cruise control and speed-limiting devices on driver vigilance and behaviour.
It found that the less work the driver has to do, the less alert he will be behind the wheel.
The study indicated that by automating control of the vehicle, there is a decline in drivers’ attention and control, which reduces their ability to respond to hazards. “For example, when cruise control and speed limiters were used, drivers showed reduced ability to merge into traffic due to greater difficulty in modulating vehicle speed.
“The aids also caused drivers to remain in the overtaking lane for longer periods of time and to move back into the slow lane less often. Drivers straightened their vehicles less often when using these devices, and had substantially slower reaction times, especially in emergencies,” the result showed.
The study also found that episodes of drowsiness occurred more frequently when cruise control was utilised (and to a lesser extent, with speed limiters) than when drivers controlled vehicle speed. 
According to the study, these behaviours grew more pronounced with the duration of travel, especially when using cruise control. Generally, the reduction of alertness and control was greater when using cruise control than with speed limiters, the researchers said.
Driver attentiveness is a hot debate worldwide, with various governments thinking of laws that will supplement bans on texting while driving with strict limits, or outright bans, on using internet-enabled features while their vehicle is in motion.
It is a turf battle between automakers pumping billions of dollars into research, innovation and development to bait potential car owners (of course with safety in mind) and governments that want the manufacturers to pay more attention to technologies that take drivers’ eye off the road.

Less to do, more danger   
In an article titled ‘Too much safety could make drivers less safe’, auto safety expert Keith Barry, observed that drivers were at their best when they were paying attention to their surroundings but not when they were flummoxed.
“This is important because as automakers pack their cars with more and more semiautonomous safety technology such as adaptive cruise control and automatic braking, driving a car becomes easier and easier. We are, essentially, given less to pay attention to while we are taught that our cars are watching out for us.
In truth, the automakers are upping their game. Most cars with adaptive cruise control monitor what is up ahead to automatically manage distance and braking. For example, now, Honda is taking the idea one step further by actively tracking and analysing vehicles in adjacent lanes.
The Honda new system called Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control should, in theory, make assisted driving a little safer and smoother.
In the past, the car might brake sharply if another driver drifted into your lane because its narrow field of view couldn't detect the oncoming vehicle early enough.
While it is widely accepted that these semi-autonomous tools are very effective to maintain safe speeds, it calls for smartness, attention and awareness on the part of users.

NB: This article was written with additional files from


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