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Does Cruise Control in All Motor Vehicles Make Our Roads and Highways Safer?


Cruise control technology has been an integral part of motor vehicle technology for decades. The basic cruise control system was designed to allow the driver of a car or truck to set the desired speed of the vehicle. The system would maintain the desired speed of the vehicle on upgrades and downgrades without the driver needing to apply the gas or brakes. On long straight roads cruise control could give rest to the driver's legs, prevent exceeding the speed limit inadvertently, leading to reduced driving stress. When approaching slower traffic, inclement weather, a change in speed limit or poor road conditions, the driver with a single tap on the brake could regain total control.

Cruise Control in Passenger Vehicles

Standard cruise control, available in passenger vehicles for over 40 years, is as safe as the drivers who set it. Some drivers reduce eye movement and even become easily fatigued after long stretches of cruising. They are prone to lane drift, may not see speed limit changes, look in mirrors or notice road signs. They are also more likely to become engaged in distracting activities like texting or mind wandering.

Today, standard cruise control is being replaced by a new system called adaptive cruise control. Adaptive cruise control, with the aid of radar or laser technology, can sense approaching obstructions and slow or stop the vehicle without the drivers taking control. The basis cruise control would depend on the driver to identify the obstruction and react accordingly.

Laser vs. Radar: What's the Difference?

Adaptive cruise control was first introduced with laser safety technology, making it smarter than the standard cruise control which relied on a computer interface to maintain the speed regardless of the situation. The laser technology could maintain vehicle awareness in front of the driver after the speed being set, slowing or stopping the vehicle if required. There were some early drawbacks. The laser system often did not perform well in inclement weather. The laser system also had difficulty in recognizing obstructions that were dirty or non-reflective like a tree that had fallen in a roadway or construction equipment. Radar systems are not impacted by lack of reflectivity.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Adaptive Cruise Control

Adaptive cruise control can be used in heavy urban highway traffic without constant disengagement necessary. It makes driving in congested areas safer and can reduce distracted driving accidents. In combination with other safety features, such as blind spot detection it creates an overall safer driving experience.

On the negative side, adaptive cruise control, especially laser powered systems, are not 100 percent accurate and fool proof. There is also an extra cost when added with an option package on today's vehicles.

Adaptive cruise control is part of the future of automated driving, available today. Soon to join it will be omnidirectional vehicle detection, road surface suspension adjustment, vehicle to vehicle communication as well as driverless technology eventually reducing accident rates drastically.

Cruise Control in Commercial Vehicles

To make a comparison between a big rig with cruise control and a passenger vehicle, the dynamics of the vehicles must be compared. Tractor trailers as well as buses and other large commercial vehicle require a much longer stopping distance to avoid a collision. The driver of a large commercial vehicle with a conventional cruise control must be alert always to disengage the system when an obstruction enters the space cushion in front of the truck, when weather conditions change or curves are approaching. Large trucks require multiple gear changes on hills to maintain speed and separate cab and trailer brakes to slow down. Cruise control cannot make gear changes or use common sense to apply brakes. It is only practical on long flat stretches of highway. The most common crashes with big rigs are road run offs and jackknives caused by speed and braking issues.

Adaptive Cruise Control in Large Trucks

In 2013 the Federal Highway Human Factors Analysis studied the effects of using the advanced Adaptive Cruise Control on reaction time as well as situational awareness while driving. The new system was expected to enable truckers to spend more time looking out for driving hazards, however the study concluded that "Adaptive Cruise Control decreases situational awareness and response times due to drivers taking on additional non-driving tasks inside the vehicle."

The study revealed the following pros and cons related to truck drivers using cruise control:

Pros of Using Cruise Control

· Reduced strain on the right leg

· Better speed control and a reduced likelihood of exceeding the speed limit

· Reduced speed fluctuation improves fuel mileage.

Cons of Using Cruise Control

· Reduced situational awareness

· Decrease in EEMG brain wave activity

· Increased driver fatigue of 25% after just 30 minutes of cruise control driving

· Reduction in eye movement checking mirrors, instruments and roadway signs

· Increase in distracted driving

· Reduced reaction time

· Increased stopping distances by an average of 131 feet traveling at highway speeds.

· Reduced directional control resulting in increased steering corrections from lane wandering.

· Reduced space cushion

· Increased risk of hydroplaning on wet pavements, snow or ice

· Speed modulation is reduced

· Reduced ability to merge into traffic

Several studies in both the US and in France have shown that an increased response time occurred when drivers had to deactivate the cruise control compared to drivers in full control of vehicle speed.

Vititoe Law Group is a personal injury law firm committed to making our roads and highways safer. If you or a loved one has been in an accident, contact Vititoe Law Group for a free evaluation of your case.

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