Of all the innovations in vehicle design, perhaps none is more convenient than cruise control.
It's an easy way to control speed on the highway, which makes you, as a driver, less likely to speed inadvertently. Cruise control is also useful for long trips because it often results in greater fuel efficiency.
But what many people don't know is that, under some conditions, using cruise control can also be dangerous. The system is designed for ideal road conditions but on slippery surfaces it can actually cause your vehicle to go into a skid.
This is a particular concern during the winter when roads are icy. The only way to prevent a skid in this situation is to immediately reduce power. But with cruise control engaged, your wheels continue spinning and you may lose control of your vehicle.
It's not just a winter problem either. Using cruise control during a heavy summer rain can cause your vehicle to hydroplane - a loss of control due to a layer of water between your tires and the road. The risk is especially high if you drive across a patch of deep water.
Unfortunately, driving without cruise control doesn't guarantee that you'll avoid a skid when road conditions are poor. If you begin to lose control of your vehicle, it's important to know what to do:
- Avoid slamming on the brakes - it's dangerous and puts you at an even greater risk of a collision. Instead, remain calm and brake steadily, look where you want to go and steer in that direction.
- Whatever the road conditions, remember that cruise control shouldn't be used on roads where many speed adjustments are required. These include winding roads, lanes with heavy traffic and city and suburban streets.
- Be sure to turn your cruise control off when it's not in use, rather than simply disengaging it with the brakes. Otherwise you might accidentally hit a button and reset the system, surprising you as a driver and increasing the likelihood of a collision.
Like most conveniences, knowing when to use cruise control is as important as knowing how to use it. Understanding both will help keep you and everyone on the road safe.