As is becoming custom with this blog, I need to have a bit of a rant and get something off my chest that’s been annoying me for some time now. This week, it’s the subject of cruise control and more to the point, why nobody appears to use it.
I’ve spent many years driving up and down the UK’s motorway network and I am always left amazed at the poor standard of driving, people’s spatial awareness and in particular, anticipation. The one that makes my skin crawl the most is when a faster car is approaching a slower car in the middle lane.
Now, a normal person would see that they are gaining on a slower car, check their right-hand mirror to see if the next lane is clear, if it is, they will then indicate, pull out and complete the overtake, all while not touching the pedals. What actually seems to happen on our roads is; they slam on the brakes, inches away from the bumper of the car in front, then violently swerve out into to right-hand lane, often without indicating. There are just so many things wrong with this manoeuvre that it hurts my brain.
In the current climate of fuel economy taking top trumps over everything else, the use of cruise control should be used as often as it’s safe to do so. Letting the car’s computer regulate the throttle at a steady speed is far more economical than the human foot and it eliminates the small on/off movements caused by bumps and adjustments. Studies by Natural Resources Canada have shown that fluctuations in the speed of around 6mph every 18 seconds can consume 20% more fuel than if you used cruise control and kept a steady speed.
The ability to know what’s around you in 360 degrees and have some form of spatial awareness is a vital part of motorway driving that seems to be a lost art amongst many. When you learn how to drive, you are taught to regularly check your mirrors. This enables you to read what other traffic is doing and anticipate potential risks.
For example, if a collision occurs in front of you and you know from checking your mirrors that the right-hand lane is clear, all it takes is another quick check and you can take evasive action to avoid becoming part of the accident. Those who haven’t been checking their mirrors will likely panic and hit the brakes. Since most people these days follow the car in front far too closely, they will not stop in time.
Aside from the financial/economy benefits of using cruise control and the importance of not getting in a crash, it’s just plain frustrating when you see people doing some sort of strange tap dance on their pedals. Cue brake lights flashing like they’re performing a crappy disco for the car behind…
How many times have you been cruising at 70 and have seen a car zooming past, then 5 minutes later you’re having to pull out to overtake them for the third time? I’m not sure what the driving test consists of nowadays but when I passed, motorway driving was an extra through the pass plus system, which was optional. I really hope motorway driving is a compulsory part of the test now, because as the roads get evermore congested, the risk to everyone increases.
Using Technology Correctly
Some cars on the road even have advanced forms of cruise control with radar guidance monitoring the gap between the car in front. Many also have blind-spot monitoring, informing the driver of traffic to their left or right. Unfortunately, I think most drivers rely too heavily on technology and favour it to the use of their own eyes. If the technology was used correctly, the motorway network could be a stress-free system that allows cars and trucks, all travelling at different speeds, to harmoniously get from A to B.
Unfortunately, what we have (especially on a Friday evening) is some sort of test track for budding destruction derby drivers, with the usual finance spec white BMW swarming around with no indicators like a Messerschmitt ME109 and the Audi A4 TDI tailgating like a touring car about to pull out of the slipstream ready for an overtake on the Kemmel straight at Spa Francorchamps.