Cruise control is an invaluable feature on American cars. Without cruise control, long road trips would be more tiring, for the driver at least, and those of us suffering from lead-foot syndrome would probably get a lot more speeding tickets.

Cruise control is far more common on American cars than European cars, because the roads in America are generally bigger and straighter, and destinations are farther apart. With traffic continually increasing, basic cruise control is becoming less useful, but instead of becoming obsolete, cruise control systems are adapting to this new reality -- soon, cars will be equipped with adaptive cruise control, which will allow your car to follow the car in front of it while continually adjusting speed to maintain a safe distance.

In this edition of HowStuffWorks, we'll learn how a conventional cruise control system works, and then we'll take a look at adaptive cruise control systems that are under development.