March 23, 2012 1 Comment
My hands are always cold and it’s often quite uncomfortable. One frigid LA winter morning, several years ago, I drove a friend’s Range Rover with a heated steering wheel and it was a revelation. Ever since I’ve wanted a car with that option. So I confess that the only reason I checked the option box for Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) on my 2012 Dodge Charger is because it was the only way I could get the heated steering wheel.
What I wasn’t prepared for is how ACC has changed the way I drive and has changed my life – for the better.
Thom and I love to spend weekends at our condo in Palm Springs, but to get there you have to drive the dull, 120 miles from our home in West Hollywood, through the vast suburbia of Inland Empire through the San Gorgonio Pass into Palm Springs. Even the dog is bored by the trip.
The worst and most stressful portion of the drive is getting from the Land of No Freeways (thank you, Beverly Hills) to the point on the Hollywood Freeway where it morphs into Interstate 10. Once all the splits are done, I-10 opens up to a long, uninvolving slog through such tantalizing destinations as West Covina and Fontana. You know you’re 22 minutes from Central Palm Springs when you pass the Morongo Casino & Resort Spa Hotel that looks like the desert was fracked with ipecac.
I use cruise control to relieve my heavy foot, get better fuel economy and hopefully avoid the California Highway Patrol’s radar gun. However, it’s no secret that people don’t pay attention to driving and certainly don’t drive a constant speed. We’ve all had the experience at cruising along when a minivan suddenly slows everyone down. It’s usually driven by a wearied and stressed-out mom trying to mediate Israeli-Palestinian peace in the rear. Drop out of cruise and try to go around then back to speed.
I’ve now entered the surreal and serene world of Adaptive Cruise Control. I set it to 75 mph, select a comfortable following distance and rest my right foot for the next 100 miles. I select 75 mph because it seems to best approximate the flow of traffic in open stretches of freeway and it’s not too fast to garner the attention of the ever-lurking CHP. There are plenty of other “sacrifices” that fly by me at 80 – 100 mph who will get caught. At least that’s the plan and it’s work well for several years now.
The car’s on-board radar constantly monitors the speed of the vehicle in front of you and makes the infinite adjustments to maintain a safe distance and constant speed. At first, your reaction is to hit the brake when you come up on a slower car or someone cuts in front of you; but it’s not necessary as the system does it for you. The technology foreshadows a futuristic vision of all cars having sensor systems that talk to not only other cars, but to Big Brother’s SkyNet in hopes of avoiding accidents, saving lives and moving traffic more efficiently.
The first time the car brakes itself, you realize the pedal by your foot isn’t moving. In addition to the car’s standard power-assisted hydraulic anti-lock brakes, the car is equipped with a redundant brake-by-wire system to service the ACC. The Electronic Brake Controller (EBC) also facilitates additional stopping power in a panic brake situation.
Twice now, I’ve set the ACC to 75 mph on our way back from PS to LA. I do it as soon as I pass the last stoplight on northwest-bound Highway 111 at Mountain Gate. I haven’t touched either the brake or accelerator until I’m at the La Brea Ave exit on the westbound Santa Monica freeway. Not once. That’s astounding. That’s a game-changing technology.
Another feature of ACC that differs from standard cruise control is the speed setting. I can set the upper speed limit regardless of my current speed. I simply hit the +/RES (resume) button on the steering wheel until I reach the desired number. My top speed is displayed in the ACC screen of the car’s electronic vehicle information center. You can’t do that on a standard cruise control.
If traffic grinds to a halt, the system disengages below 20 mph and the center display screen beeps and flashes BRAKE! The system uses up to 25% of the car’s braking capacity through the EBC; but it can’t fully stop the car. (Some systems can fully stop the car if it senses an emergency.)
The ACC also allows you to set the following distance comfortable to you. The three settings on my car are: 3 (long), 2 (medium) and 1 (short). I’m most comfortable with the medium setting which is around 3-4 car lengths.
The same ACC radar system and electronic brakes also form the car’s Forward Collision Warning (FCW) system. The FWC default is “on” and you may never notice it until a car in front of you slams on its brakes or cuts you off.
This just happened to me when a car rudely cut in front of me with little distance between our cars. We’ve all been there, right? The FCW system chimed rapidly like Dr. Sheldon Cooper knocking on Penny’s door. The word “BRAKE!” flashed urgently in the center display. I was on the situation instantly even without FCW, but it’s nice to know how fast and accurately the system reacted.
I hate to admit that the adaptive cruise control makes me a safer driver. I’m not tailgating. I’m less stressed-out over distracted drivers and vacillating traffic speeds as the car adapts to the leading car. I change lanes less frequently and if I’m momentarily distracted, the car automatically slows down, so there is less risk of sudden braking. I’m even more comfortable as I can rest my legs in a more forward position. And as a bonus, I find I’m getting better fuel economy because the cruise control module and drive-by-wire throttle can adjust and adapt much faster than my own lead foot.
If you regularly drive long distances on the open highway, don’t hesitate to check the adaptive cruise control option box for your next new car. This is one electronic nanny you can have a long-term affair with and not get kicked out of the house. It will change your life.