When I started writing this column, I came up with ideas at a constant speed just like my mind was using cruise control. Cruise control is handy and a great gadget of today’s technology, but is it safe to use? Safety is more of a thinking thingy, not always a gadget thingy.

Installing cruise control in a car can be expensive, but adding a brick to a car costs less money. If manufacturing companies included a brick with each car instead of cruise control, could car prices be reduced? Drivers could simply place the brick on their accelerator to make their car could go as fast as possible. Many drivers stomp on their gas pedal and drive like racers on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Today, many things that I purchase require assembly. Thankfully, these items are usually accompanied by an owner’s manual. I find these manuals most useful after I’ve finished assembly and there are extra parts in the box. If cruise control required assembly, I would be driving the Flintstones’ car. The owner’s manual of each car gives detailed instructions on the proper use of cruise control. My speculation is that most drivers know detailed cruise control instructions as well as they know detailed brain surgery instructions.

Properly using cruise control can lower fuel consumption and that helps lower bad emissions. Cruise control is known for its advantages, like preserving driver’s energy on long trips so they have less fatigue when they arrive at their location. Some drivers prefer the disadvantage of consuming alcohol, lots of caffeine, popping pills or robotically using their horn while their cruise control is set on full speed.

Careless drivers might set their cruise control at the posted speed limit then press their foot on the gas pedal. If cruise control is used incorrectly, it can contribute to needless vehicle crashes. It can also limit a driver’s ability to maneuver around curves and objects in the road. It increases the likelihood of losing control of a vehicle, and it increases the distance required for a vehicle to stop while the driver reacts to a danger.

A nice rainy day can be a good thing, but many people don’t realize that light rain on the road can be more dangerous than a heavy downpour. When it first starts to rain, oil and grease dropped by cars will mix with dirt then rise to the road surface. They work in concert to make a slightly wet road as grimy and slippery as a greasy tile floor. Thankfully, the slippery grime tends to wash away when the rain gets heavy.

Standing water on the surface of a road is often deep enough to stop water from being quickly displaced from under a tire. When the water is not displaced rapidly, a tire can lose its grip on the road. When that occurs, a car can skim over the road surface like tossing an upside down frisbee across a blanket of snow. This problem is exacerbated when years of vehicle traffic wears the road down into water collecting grooves.

A car doesn’t have to be speeding to slide on the road, because sliding can happen when a car is traveling as slow as 35 mph. Careless drivers see their car’s cruise control like a babysitter. They turn it on then set their brain to be anywhere except behind the steering wheel where it belongs. Some drivers watch television, use their phone, fiddle with other electronics, apply makeup, read the newspaper or intentionally slip into a self-induced coma.

A car’s speed will remain about the same any time its cruise control is set and functioning properly. Moving a foot from the floor to the brake pedal doesn’t slow a vehicle as quickly as moving a foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal. If another car cuts in front, an animal enters the road, or debris flies toward a windshield, an activated cruise control increases the time a car needs to stop.

Using cruise control on hills and curves can be dangerous, and it can contribute toward drivers and passengers becoming greasy spots on the road. On a less perilous note, if it’s set to the posted speed limit, it can help keep the police at bay. Cruise control is just one of many technological advancements that make our lives easier. A cruise control is a nice tool, but it is nothing but a tool. It can’t substitute for driver alertness, constant eye contact and brain power.

Charlie Sewell is a retired Powder Springs police chief. His book “I’d Rather You Call Me Charlie: Reminiscences Filled With Twists of Devilment, Devotion and A Little Danger Here and There” is available on Amazon. Email him at retiredchiefsewell@gmail.com.

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