Cruise Control is More Important and More Useful than Most Drivers Realize

What could any experienced driver possibly need to learn about cruise control?  You would be surprised!  Most drivers who attend our courses don’t know all of its benefits, or more importantly all of its possible risks.

The switches for cruise control can look different from one automaker to another but they all cover the same functions. (Copyright image, 2018.)

There are four significant, constant benefits of using cruise control whenever it is safe to do so, and these are:

  • Removing any risk of inadvertent speeding, over the posted limit, and therefore the removal of any risk of getting a speeding ticket;
  • By taking away any risk of speeding, you also reduce the chance of having a crash, and — if a crash does happen — the severity is reduced, together with the likelihood or severity of any injury or the risk of death (to the driver or other people).  A lot of people dismiss this reasoning but there’s a truck-load of research to show how crash and casualty risks drop significantly with even a small reduction in speed;
  • For some people, especially fleet managers in large corporations, the most attractive benefit from correctly using cruise control is a significant saving in the cost of fuel.  Repeatedly slowing down a little then accelerating again — as most drivers do when not using cruise control — increases fuel consumption significantly;
  • By taking away the “slow down-speed up-slow down-speed up” cycle of even highway driving, you will find that the amount of passing is reduced, too.  Have you ever played “leapfrog” with other drivers, when you pass them, then they pass you, then you pass them, etc.?  That happens specifically because one or both drivers are not using cruise control when they could be and should be.  All the extra overtakes achieve is annoyance and an increase in potential vehicle conflict scenarios.
Photograph of a State Police car, with roof lights activated, stopping a speeding driver. (Copyright image, 2011.)
State Police stopping a speeding driver. (Copyright image, 2011.)

One aspect of the above issues is linked to something known as speed attenuation.  This often-risky phenomenon, and how to avoid it, is explained in the cruise control segment of our training courses, along with more than one hundred other important safety issues — most if not all of which can be factors in the causation of vehicular crashes.

There are at least six occasions when it would be unsafe to use cruise control, and again these are explained on our courses, but all drivers should already be aware that it is not safe to use cruise control on wet or slippery roads.  This is because doing so can potentially trigger wheel-spin, if one or more of the powered wheels loses grip on the road surface, and therefore a skid.

Photograph of a 55mph speed limit sign in a construction zone, at night.
As long as no factors exist which would make the use of cruise control unsafe, it is usually a good way to stay within a speed limit. Construction zones, such as shown here, are places where keeping speed down is critical. Please remember that speed limits are a maximum speed, not a target. (Copyright image, 2018.)

One other thing to mention is adaptive cruise control.  How ACC works does vary from one automaker to another but basically — as always with any type of cruise control — you “tell” it the speed you want your vehicle to maintain, and it will do that as long as you do not get behind a slower-moving vehicle, in which case it will slow down to the same speed (and then speed up again, after the lead vehicle has gone).

The problem with adaptive cruise control, together with other semi-autonomous safety features such as lane departure warnings/control, is that some drivers very rashly are assuming that, with these features activated, a car is effectively driving itself, but IT IS NOT.  If you take your mind off your driving, your hands off the wheel, or your eyes off the road, it is quite possible that someone could be killed as a result, whether or not these features are running.

Eventually, fully autonomous driving will undoubtedly reduce deaths and injuries on the roads, but despite some very over-optimistic claims, this is still a very long way off — maybe still decades.  Please continue to drive properly and don’t let these introductory gadgets, for such is what they are, make you lazy behind the wheel.

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Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at: http://www.advanceddrivers.com/ceochief-instructors-resumecvbio/

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