Cruise control…living on the edge


By Al Vinikour      

Throughout my life I have had more than my share of loves. These include my wife and children, my twin-grandsons and for some reason, Dora the Explorer.  But another love of mine has even more potential to get me in trouble. As you can guess I’m referring to cruise control.

First of all there have been few greater auto-related inventions than cruise control. When it first came out it was the next sliced bread. With few exceptions one could set cruise control for, or just a few miles per hour beyond, the speed limit and take comfort in the fact that if a policeman should be encountered there would be no tell-tale brightening of brake lights that might alert the officer that the driver of the vehicle was probably driving too fast. Just ooze on by without calling attention to yourself. 

Another side benefit of driving with cruise control activated — especially on long trips — is that at the end of the day you’re not walking with a dead foot. You’re right foot is rested from being free to roam around. You may have saddle sores from sitting on a seat for the last 500 miles but at least you can walk to a restaurant or your sleazy motel room with dignity.

However, just like anything else that’s good for you, cruise control comes with its own hair shirt. The most common one is when a car is going to pass you on the left and there’s not enough time for you to let him pass and follow him into that lane.

Meantime, you’re moving up on the bumper of the vehicle in front of you just because you don’t want to have to put your foot on the brake and have to go through the “laborious” process of pushing the “resume” button. I have to admit I’m as guilty of this as most everyone else is but I’d never admit this to another human being.

Diagram of Mercedes'
adaptive cruise control

Some manufacturers have developed what they think is a cure for this. It’s called “adaptive cruise control.” Simply put, if you’re within a certain distance from the vehicle in front of you the system will automatically lower your speed until such time as it’s safe for it to raise it back to the original setting.

Theoretically this is fine. But many people are prone to motion sickness and the constant moving up and slowing down that the vehicle is doing on its own can be nauseating if one lets it. Even though I seldom believe a word I say I can still talk myself into an uncomfortable mode by concentrating on how this roller-coaster ride is affecting me.

Years ago I was driving a vehicle to the Pocono Mountains. It had adaptive cruise control and I thought it would be fun to give it a real test on 400+ miles of freeway driving. Unfortunately for me, however, it was raining cats, dogs and porcupines. The heavy rain actually blocked out the camera sensor in the grille to the point where the vehicle was speeding up and slowing down like a bucking bronco.

I wound up “hand flying” all the way to my destination. As I said, that was a long time ago so I’m willing to concede that particular encumbrance may have been corrected by now. (Besides, I’ve always wanted to use the word “encumbrance” in a review so this is the culmination of a dream.)

I doubt that cruise control appeals to the younger and more energetic set so what I suggest my “senior colleagues” do is to set the system for two miles over the limit, put on a satellite radio station that plays Kate Smith, Snooky Lanson and Vaughn Monroe songs and ease on down the road (to coin a musical phrase).