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Cruise control poses dangers you may not realize

Tuesday - 8/13/2013, 4:55am  ET

Outer Loop delay March 19 (WTOP/Kristi King)
Cruise control isn't something you are likely to use during the morning commute. (WTOP/Kristi King)

WASHINGTON - Long-distance drivers and highway travelers praise cruise control, but a recent study warns drivers may want to rethink its use.

Using a driving simulator, VINCI Autoroutes and the Centre of Neurocognitive and Neurophysiological Investigations put 90 drivers to the test. The participants included an equal number of men and women in three different age groups.

In addition to cruise control, speed limiters that set a car's maximum speed and are not typically used in the U.S. were part of the study.

Drivers were presented with four scenarios. They went through each three times, with cruise control, with the speed limiter and using neither device.

Researchers found the attention capacity of drivers was reduced. Not being attentive reduced a drivers' abilities to respond in dangerous situations. Specifically, the study participants couldn't merge into traffic as easily due to difficulty adjusting their driving speeds.

The study also found the following:

  • Cruise control causes drivers to stay in the fast lane longer and move back into the slow lane less often.

  • Safe distances from overtaken vehicles are reduced by an average of 5 percent before drivers move back into the slow lane, and 10 percent when moving back.

  • Drivers experienced a reduced ability to keep their vehicles in a straight line, oddly enough making the trips longer.

  • Reaction time, especially in emergencies, increased. In an emergency, that increase was about 1 second.

WTOP's Lacey Mason and Nick Iannelli contributed to this report. Follow LaceyWTOP and @NickWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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