The demonstration used 36 drivers on a closed Ford oval test track in suburban Detroit. There, they simulated normal highway driving — first while engaging adaptive cruise control, which uses sensors or radars to maintain consistent distances from the car in front of you and changes speeds automatically, and then a second time without the technology, meaning the drivers had to manually apply the brakes and accelerate.
In each case, the lead vehicles slowed from 60 miles per hour to 40 to mimic a traffic disturbance. When done without use of active cruise, the drivers each braked harder than the vehicle ahead, which led to a braking wave that became compounded further downstream, in some cases slowing traffic to a crawl. When the experiment was repeated and the lead cars slowed down, this time with ACC set at 62 mph for all vehicles, the technology outperformed human drivers in almost every braking situation.
Even when only a third of drivers used adaptive cruise control, the results were similar to full-ACC demonstrations.
"The big takeaway from all of this is it's to everyone's benefit to practice good driving," Michael Kane, supervisor for the Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology, said in a release. "Give ample space between you and the vehicle ahead, stay alert, and that will always help traffic flow more smoothly and help us all get to our destinations on time."
The experiment further bolsters previous studies like this one from MIT, which found tailgating to be a prime culprit behind phantom traffic jams — and that keeping an equal and responsible distance betwen cars in front and behind you can nip traffic jams in the bud. They demonstrated how it works through this nifty GIF, below.
Adaptive cruise control is becoming a common feature on new vehicles, often bundled together with a suite of driver-assist safety technologies. Ford first introduced it in 2006 and says it's now available on 71 percent of its U.S. models. Ford is also launching FordCo-Pilot360 this year, a standard package that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot information system, lane-keeping assist, rear backup camera and auto high-beam headlamps. The 2019 Ford Edge is the company's first vehicle to pair ACC with lane-centering technology.