Adaptive cruise control is kind of like an in-car guardian angel. It's a quiet but key part of a vehicle's pre-crash system. It looks out for you while sensing potentially hazardous situations ahead.

What It Does

Adaptive cruise control (ACC) is the postmodern version of cruise control. We all know and love the ability to set cruise control at a maximum speed, and ACC takes it up a notch by automatically slowing down or speeding up to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you.

How It Works

ACC is featured on a number of today's vehicles and has been around for a few years. Now it's becoming more common than ever, and you can find it on vehicles from Audi, Honda, Mazda, Toyota and Lexus. It's supersimple to set up: Drivers set the maximum speed, and a radar sensor does the heavy lifting, er, braking. The sensor scans for traffic in front of you and lets you maintain a timed distance from the car closest to you. It also allows you to set the cruise control when light traffic is messing up your commute. It's a perfect system for that dreaded bumper-to-bumper gridlock we face during rush hour.

Giving drivers a huge leg up on safety and convenience, ACC is usually housed with a robust pre-crash system that gives you a warning and may even begin to brake. Some systems, like those in the Kia Cadenza and Hyundai Genesis, will even bring your car to a full stop, then get back up to speed automatically as traffic thins out.

How It Keeps Us in Line

With millions of travelers hitting the highway this summer for those treks to the Grand Canyon and Disneyland, ACC can keep a weary driver from veering into another lane. When you start to daydream behind the wheel, ACC can detect if the distance of the vehicle ahead of you is encroaching on your space. It also gives drivers the added benefit of prepping your vehicle for a crash: If the guy in front of you slows down quickly, your car will brake. It will also flash an alert and even tighten the seat belts.

It's available as partial ACC -- only working at speeds of about 20 miles per hour and up -- or pricier full-range adaptive cruise control. Partial will set you back about $500, but prepare to fork over about $2,500 for the full system.

Tech that keeps us in line is definitely a trend worth checking out.

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Lindsay Martell has covered entertainment news for E! Entertainment and tech trends for TechTV, CNBC, Newsfactor, and Sci-Tech Today, among others. She lives in Oakland, California.

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