Cruise control, also known as speed control, or auto-cruise, is a popular feature in most modern cars. The system manages the speed of the car, in the same way that a driver would, by controlling the accelerator or throttle position. While the driver needs to bring the car to the desired speed manually, cruise control is the perfect mechanism for long road-trips on the interstate and allows drivers to adhere to speed limits, change their position safely, avoid fatigue, and even do their bit to reduce carbon emissions.
If you have a long trip planned and know you will be driving on the open road for hours, then cruise control might be the perfect feature for you! It is particularly desirable if there is no one to share the driving load with and will enable you to focus on pressing road trip matters, like enjoying the perfect playlist and spotting roadside cafe’s that serve delicious coffee along the way. Nonetheless, while prom-worthy tunes and scrumptious treats are essentials of an epic road trip, safety remains number one!
Cruise control technology in its earliest form was invented in 1788 by Scottish inventor James Watt to maintain the speed of steam engines. However, cruise control as we know it today arose in 1948 and was created by mechanical engineer Ralph Teetor. Rumor has it that it was his frustration with his lawyer’s driving that ignited this invention. His lawyer, when telling a good story, would constantly slow down his vehicle and then speed it up once the story had ended. His failure to maintain a consistent driving speed infuriated Teetor. Cruise control he surmised, would enable his lawyer to talk the talk, all the while driving the drive. Thus, cruise control was borne (albeit out of irritation!)
Cruise control is a handy function that can decrease your fuel consumption, control your speed, and enable the driver to move more freely. However, like all things car related, it’s important to navigate the system safely. Here are some things you should always bear in mind.
Know the Basic Features
Before you get on the open road or interstate and decide to try out your cruise control function, it’s imperative that you know how the system operates. Read the manual, test the functions out in a quiet and spacious location, and make sure that you feel confident as to how the system works in your vehicle. It’s important that you learn how to activate the function quickly, but also how to stop it if you need to suddenly slow-down, or stop your car. Your reaction speed to unseen obstacles and situations are essential to driving safely, and thus, understanding your cruise control settings needs to become second-nature to you. Only activate this feature when you feel certain of your abilities and at ease with the different elements of the system.
One of the most important things to remember is always to keep your foot close to the brake pedal. Keeping this in mind will enable you to turn the function off if emergency calls and will ensure quicker reaction time to possible obstacles on the road.
Get Your Car Checked Regularly
Much like engineers check the safety of airplanes before they embark on long journies, it’s important to get your car checked out regularly. These inspections are especially critical if you are about to go on a long trip or are heading to remote areas where roadside assistance is scarce. By servicing your care regularly, mechanics can check that your cruise control system is working efficiently and ensure that the other components that relate to this function are in good working order. Like all mechanical devices, optimum functioning relies on a number of different features working together. As such, if your brakes are faulty, this will hinder the way in which you can safely stop cruise control. Similarly, if your tires are worn and in need of changing this will impact your speed navigation abilities.
Making sure that everything is running smoothly will ensure for greater safety and peace of mind. It will also minimize mid-road-trip glitches and enable you to arrive at your destination safely and without stress.
Remember to Concentrate! Auto-Pilot is Only for Pilots (who have co-pilots)
Unfortunately, cruise control doesn’t equate to auto-pilot. In reality, drivers need to be even more conscious of the road when utilizing this function because reaction times can sometimes be slower. Bernadette Moreau of the French-owned Vinci Foundation for Responsible Driving noted that “the less work the driver has to do, the less alert [they] will be behind the wheel.” He continued to reveal that “user savviness and awareness” are essential to remain safe when utilizing this function.
Drivers also need to continually be watching the road so that they can react to obstacles that might arise on their path. Studies have shown that those driving for long stretches should take breaks from cruise-control so that they can regain their attention and attentiveness.
Since cruise control can make reaction times slower, it is also paramount that drivers keep a watchful eye on the road and possibly dangerous situations.
Know Speed Limits and Road Changes
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to plan your route well and to know if there are areas where speed limits might suddenly change or where sharp bends might occur. Getting a bunch of speeding fines on your holiday is not a great way to get into that relaxed holiday mood. Speeding is also highly dangerous for yourself, your passengers, and anyone else on the road.
It’s also a good idea to study the terrain of your route. If you have set the cruise-control to 120 km/h then your car will take corners at this speed too. In worst case scenarios this could cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles. Thus, knowing speed limits and possible obstacles and changes in the road is essential if you want to nagivate the system safely. This knowledge will enable you to slow down at appropriate times and navigate the route safely.
Don’t Use Cruise Control if You’re Feeling Fatigued
While cruise control is perfect for long drives and can enable a more comfortable journey for drivers, it’s also important not to use the function if you are feeling overly tired or fatigued. If you are feeling exhausted, it is always better to stop for a while, get some rest, or ask someone else to drive.
Contrary to popular assumption, cruise-control is not a quick fix to help tired drivers, but rather a helpful tool for those who want to maintain one speed. The function only works effectively if the driver is alert and wide awake.
Keep Your Hands on the Wheel
This tip might sound like an obvious one, but when the music is blasting, the road is open, and your car is cruising at a brilliant speed (and with no hurdles in sight), it might seem tempting to relax a little more than usual. Even if your path seems straight, the levels of the road can constantly change, and this can impact the direction of your vehicle. By keeping both hands firmly on the wheel, you will be able to keep your car on the right track, change lanes safely, and ensure that you don’t drive into anything (or anyone!)
Although your car might have a function that allows you to stay in your lane, these functions are merely assistance tools and work best when coupled with a cautious and diligent driver who has their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel, and their foot close to the brake pedal.
Avoid Cruise Control in Dangerous Conditions
While cruise control is a brilliant feature to utilize on open roads and in clear weather conditions, there are some hazardous conditions in which cruise control should be avoided. Never use the function in the following situations or conditions.
- Rain, snow, or hail: These conditions will make the road slippery and will make it less easy to control your speed and brake accordingly.
- In heavy traffic: When you’re in heavy traffic, you need to be able to slow down and brake at a moments notice. Switch off the function in these conditions and save it for the interstate. Cruise control is for cruising and should be optimized when you have a lot of space and a safe following distance.
- On narrow, or bendy roads: Since cruise-control can hinder the ability to navigate corners and bends safely, it’s better to avoid it in areas where there are numerous twists and turns.