Ford Study Indicates ACC Minimizes Traffic Jams

Ford and Vanderbilt University have completed a series of tests showcasing the benefits of adaptive cruise control (ACC), a technology that could reduce the number of “phantom” traffic jams caused by human error alone.

On a closed Ford test track, 36 drivers simulated normal highway traffic using Ford’s ACC technology, then ran the same test again, this time with drivers braking and accelerating manually.

During the test, the lead vehicles in each lane slowed from 60 to 40mph to mimic a traffic disturbance, and without the ACC technology the drivers each braked harder than the vehicle ahead, slowing traffic to a crawl.

Vehicles using ACC reduced the overall impact of a braking event, even when just one in three vehicles used the technology.

During one run, the ACC suppressed the braking wave so precisely that the last car in the lane slowed by just 5mph instead of coming to a standstill.

The automaker also released a YouTube video of the test showing a bird’s eye view and illustrating how the flow of traffic adjusted as the ACC in each vehicle took over.

“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,” Daniel Work, a civil engineering professor at Vanderbilt University, wrote in a statement that detailed the study’s results.

Work and lead researcher Raphael Stern have been working with the support of the National Science Foundation to determine how smart technologies can provide a pathway to fewer traffic snarls — with the added benefit of reducing overall fuel consumption.

The US is the most congested developed country in the world, with drivers spending an average of 41 hours a year in traffic during peak hours, according to a February report from INRIX.

The analyst firm’s Global Traffic Scorecard — the largest ever study of its kind — ranked the impact of traffic congestion in 1,360 cities across 38 countries worldwide.

The survey found traffic in the US cost drivers nearly $305 billion in 2017, an average of $1,445 per driver.

The US also had three of the top five most congested cities globally, with first-place finisher Los Angeles, New York (tied for second with Moscow) and San Francisco (fifth), an economic drain north of $2.5 billion due to traffic jams.

A recent report by a Rutgers University-Camden team of researchers found that the intelligent control of an autonomous vehicle, through ACC or other technologies, could dampen stop-and-go waves of traffic.

While the experiments represented a stretch of single-lane roadway, the theory also extends to multi-lane freeways, on which lane-changing can serve as an additional trigger of stop-and-go waves.

For example, when a series of adjacent vehicles on a roadway are connected and automated, it is possible to form dense platoons of vehicles that leave very small gaps, in theory eliminating the stop-and-go waves that form phantom traffic jams.

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209.

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