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Study Shows Cruise Control May Reduce Driver Alertness

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Modern cruise control was invented in the late 1940’s. The first implementation occurred in a Chrysler Imperial in 1958. Today, most of us would be lost without the cruise control, that handy autopilot allows us to rest the right foot and enjoy a steady, continuous speed while on long road trips.

But, cruise control can be dangerous in some situations. A recent European study found that young drivers, in particular, were slow to apply the brakes when needed if the cruise control was engaged.

Study Examines Driver Behavior

The study, funded by Vinci Autoroutes Foundation, involved 90 participants divided into three age groups:

1. Youngest—from age 18 to 30
2. Middle-aged—from 40 to 50
3. Oldest—over 60

Researchers measured the effects of cruise control on driver behavior. Participants performed four different driving exercises, which included scenarios like the following:

• Drivers had to alter their speed in response to a situation like approaching a toll station, going around an accident, passing construction work, and dealing with the presence of radar.
• Each participant carried out the task in three sessions under different driving conditions.
• In the first session, they used the speed limiter; in the second, the cruise control; and in the third, no driving aids.

Results Show Reduced Alertness and Reaction Time

Overall, the results of the study showed that drivers—particularly those in the youngest age group—were less alert when using the cruise control and were more likely to take greater risks. Drivers:

• took longer to move into the other lane when overtaking an accident
• reduced safe distances behind overtaken vehicles by an average of five percent
• had less control of the vehicle direction in a straight line—corrected the direction of travel 25 percent less often
• had reduced reaction time, traveling an additional 40 meters before braking
• showed a more pronounced reduction in attentiveness after 30 minutes of driving
• had more episodes of drowsiness, particularly on long trips

“The less work the driver has to do,” said Bernadette Moreau, General Delegate of the Vinci Autoroutes Foundation, “the less alert he will be behind the wheel.”

Be Cautious When Using Cruise Control

The researchers noted that they were not advising drivers to stop using the cruise control, but to take precautions when using it. These include:

• Turning off the cruise control when traffic is dense or when approaching construction zones or toll stations.
• Staying alert on long trips by taking frequent rest breaks.
• Remaining in control of the vehicle at all times.