Cruise control technology, originally invented in 1788(!) by James Watt and Mathew Boulton to help control steam engines, maintains a constant speed by regulating the amount of fuel an engine receives. The speed-controlled steam engine did a lot to drive the Industrial Revolution forward, but its uses were mainly limited to factories, tractors, and (you guessed it) locomotives.
It wasn’t until 1945 that Ralph Teetor, a blind mechanical engineer, invented today’s modern automotive cruise control. Thanks to Ralph, this handy feature now makes long drives easier, keeps our speed constant, and even helps us save money.
How cruise control helps you save
Setting your cruise control at the posted speed limit can help you avoid speeding tickets and all the expenses (traffic school, higher car insurance rates) that come with them. And, as you know, a clean driving record could earn you car insurance discounts and lower car insurance rates.
In addition, by limiting the amount of fuel your engine receives and reducing gas-wasting acceleration and deceleration, cruise control can improve your fuel economy. If you set your speed at a steady 60 mph, you could increase your gas mileage even more — dropping from 70 to 60 mph improves fuel efficiency by an average of 17.2 percent!
When not to use cruise control
Although cruise control offers many benefits, there are times to avoid it for safety reasons. Police officers recommend avoiding cruise control:
- On winding roads, in heavy traffic, and when you approach a bridge or overpass
Obviously, it’s never a good idea to try and cruise when driving a constant speed is impractical.
- On icy roads, during and after the first rain of the season, and during downpours or hailstorms
Any situation that causes slippery roads — be it winter ice or the first rain after a long summer — increases the danger of sliding or hydroplaning. When this happens, the best thing to do is slow down.
If you’re using cruise control when you do this, however, it will continue trying to maintain your speed. So when you stop hydroplaning, you’ll be back up to 50 or 60 (or whatever your favorite cruising speed is) in no time, and therefore in danger of losing control again.
- Late at night or when you’re tired
When you’re sleepy, cruise control can quickly turn into snooze control. Since you don’t have to actively engage with the gas pedal, cruise control makes it easy to doze off…and lose control of your vehicle.
Cruise control 2.0
Today, some cars come equipped with adaptive cruise control, which enables you to set a desired speed while the system automatically reads traffic and keeps your car at a safe following speed. In other words, it does the braking for you. In some systems, adaptive cruise control will brake, and then accelerate to the pre-set speed automatically. (Way cool!)
So now that you better understand cruise control (and how it can save you money), drive steady, cruise safely, and enjoy the benefits of Ralph Teetor’s automotive invention.