Adaptive cruise control
Ever look away from the road for a second with the cruise control on only to find the driver in the car in front of you has hit the brakes, and you now have to slam on yours to avoid a crash? Active cruise control aims to avoid those types of tense moments, Smart says.
"Before, you're hitting cruise control and it would continue and continue, no matter what, at that speed because that was the only parameter that was set," Smart says.
On the other hand, adaptive cruise control uses radar to detect vehicles and other obstacles on the road ahead of you and throttle back your speed to maintain a safe distance if need be. In fact, some active cruise control systems can even apply the brakes to avoid an imminent crash, Smart says.
While driver-assist technologies like adaptive cruise control started out as a premium option on luxury vehicles, it's gradually filtered down into more mass-market vehicles thanks to its popularity, says Jeremy Carlson, an analyst with IHS Global Insight.
"It is kind of a pattern with automotive options where, first it is the high-priced option on some luxury vehicles and then, as the production volumes increase and more people get them, the prices fall and that make them more appealing," Carlson says.