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Is cruise control dangerous?

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Josh Armstrong/The Christian Science Monitor/File

(Read caption) The 2005 Toyota Avalon, like many other cars, offers drivers the option of using cruise control. Is it safer not to use it?

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For decades, cruise control has been a common feature on automobiles. It's beloved by many road-trippers, who say that it reduces fatigue and boosts fuel economy.

But others aren't so sold on the technology. When it debuted, for example, older drivers worried about their ability to deactivate it. That's not much of a concern nowadays, but a new study from the VINCI Autoroutes Foundation suggests that cruise control poses other dangers. 

The study employed 90 subjects, who were put into a driving simulator and challenged with four different scenarios: approaching a toll booth, encountering an 18-wheeler accident in the passing lane, encountering construction in the driving lane, and entering an area in which their speed was tracked by radar. 

Subjects went through each scenario three times -- once using cruise control (which sets a car's minimum speed), once using a speed-limiter (which sets a car's maximum speed and is uncommon in the U.S.), and once using neither device.

Researchers identified a number of problems among those using cruise control and speed-limiters:

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Researchers attribute some of these problems to a lack of attentiveness on the part of cruise control users. Though many proponents of the technology claim that it reduces driver fatigue, the motorist's lack of engagement when using cruise control could cause the opposite to be true.

The Foundation's Bernadette Moreau notes that the study isn't meant to do away with cruise control altogether, but to make motorists aware of when it should -- and shouldn't -- be employed: "The idea is not to simply advise drivers to refrain from using these driving aids, which provide real benefits in terms of speed limit compliance and comfort.... However, these aids should not be used systematically, but rather advisedly, and a number of precautions should be taken."

You can check out a summary PDF of the report here. Complete results should be released later this fall.

[BBC via Marty Padgett]

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