Cruise to control life in fast lane

Cruise control is a valuable safety aid to check your speed, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

If I asked you to name some car safety features I’ll bet things like airbags, ABS and driver aids such as stability control will be well up your list.

The modern car is loaded with safety features, both active and passive – the former help keep a car under control and prevent an accident, the latter help protect driver and passengers from injury if an accident happens – but I always consider air-conditioning and cruise control as much safety equipment as comfort and convenience features.

Air-conditioning really does help you keep your cool – both in terms of temperature and temper – when driving conditions get heated while cruise control means you can travel at a steady set pace.

It’s so easy to find yourself being swept along on busy motorways and dual-carriageways and you’re concentrating so much of what’s happening ahead and the traffic around you that your speed creeps up and over the limit… and before you know it you pass a speed camera.

In last week’s column I told how I had gone from dreading driving an automatic car to relishing it and it’s a similar experience with cruise control.The first time I used cruise control it felt more of a case of not feeling in control but now I could not envisage not using it on long journeys. Switch cruise control on, set your desired speed and let it maintain that speed… on the flat, uphill or downhill. It’s not autopilot but when you brake the cruise control cuts out until you want to return to the set speed.

The latest active cruise control systems maintain the chosen speed when safe to do so but use radar sensors to keep a set distance from vehicles in the lane ahead. If the vehicle in front slows, active cruise control automatically slows your vehicle to maintain that distance. When the lane ahead clears the system automatically accelerates your vehicle back to the chosen speed.

Using cruise control also makes you realise how inconsistent some drivers’ speed awareness is. For as you travel along at a constant speed on a multi-lane highway you cruise past a vehicle, only for it to then pass you at great speed before you overtake it again when it has slowed down.

On the subject of cruise control there is much debate about whether it should be used in wet conditions. There is some concern that if the drive wheels start to spin in wet or icy conditions, the electronics would increase engine revs to try to get the car back to the chosen speed, making the wheelspin worse which could result in losing control.

I don’t want to find out but always play safe and switch it off in the wet so I have control.

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