Ford Says Adaptive Cruise Control Can Prevent Phantom Traffic Jams

In partnership with Vanderbilt University, Ford Motor Company conducted a demonstration to show how broad use of their adaptive cruise control technology can reduce, and prevent, phantom traffic jams.

Ford staged a live demonstration with 36 drivers on a closed test track to simulate regular highway traffic. Drivers drove the track using adaptive cruise control and without the technology to experience the effects that adaptive cruise control can have on mitigating adverse traffic conditions.

The demonstration set up three lanes of highway-like traffic with 12 vehicles in each lane. Ford had the three lead vehicles in each lane slow to mimic a traffic disturbance to measure the effect it would have with and without the adaptive cruise control technology.

After the experiment, Ford said their adaptive cruise control offering reduced the impact of braking and eliminated the intense phantom traffic jam:

Without the ACC technology, the drivers each braked harder than the vehicle ahead, which led to a braking wave that became more pronounced further down the traffic stream. In other words, the non-ACC drivers amplified the initial braking event, in some cases to the point where traffic slowed to a crawl.

The demonstration was repeated with all vehicles using adaptive cruise control set at 62 mph, just slightly higher than the lead vehicles to ensure the vehicles remained in a constant platoon. In these demonstrations, the ACC systems outperformed the human drivers in almost every braking situation.

Ford said that even when one in three vehicles use adaptive cruise control in similar situations, it can have a substantial impact on on traffic quality.

“The results: vehicles using adaptive cruise control reduced the impact of a braking event more than those vehicles without the activated technology. Even with just one in three vehicles using adaptive cruise control, the test yielded similar traffic-busting benefits,” their statement read.

Phantom traffic jams are those not caused by accidents, but by human reactions to traffic conditions that lead to braking and traffic backups.

“As with crashes, human factors – such as merging into traffic without signaling, distracted driving, poor driving habits and reaction times, or unnecessary braking – are the main causes of phantom traffic jams,” Ford said. “Think of it like this: Once one driver hits the brakes, a chain reaction can occur as other drivers tap their brakes, causing the flow of traffic to halt.”

Ford’s adaptive cruise control uses radar to alter a vehicle’s speed, which Daniel Work, a civil engineering professor at Vanderbilt University, says is a promising tool that has the potential to reduce traffic and improve driving conditions.

“The fact that we saw a commercially-viable ACC system fully suppress the traffic backup is quite impressive,” Work said. “And while we know this won’t happen in every situation or in every circumstance, it’s very promising to see that commercially available ACC systems can already have a desired effect in normal, everyday driving scenarios.”

Adaptive cruise control is offered on 71 percent of Ford vehicles, giving drivers a wide range of access to models with the technology.

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