ATLANTA -- Cruise control is a great piece of technology; not only does it help you save on gas, but it could prevent you from getting a speeding ticket if you set your cruise to the speed limit.
However, cruise control can also be dangerous. Rain presents 2 specific dangers while driving, both of which can cause the same threatening results.
After a dry spell of any period, accumulated oil, grease, and dirt on the road can create extremely slippery conditions. The roads are most dangerous just after it starts to rain when a light sheen of water is standing on the road. The oil, grease etc. rise up in a layer on top of the water creating conditions similar to ice on the road.
Heavy rain or downpours cause water to puddle on the road, which can become deep enough that the tires can't squeeze the water through the tread fast enough. When this happens, the tires can actually rise up on top of the water and ride across the water like water skis, causing you to hydroplane.
But according to the National Safety Commission, this is where driving with the cruise control becomes a problem. Naturally, your cruise control wants to keep your vehicle at a constant speed, but speed will only add to the problem. Automatically, when you feel yourself begin to hydroplane, you hit the brake, but unless you have anti-lock brakes, that's the worst thing you can do.
In fact, many car manuals even tell you not to use your cruise control in wet or slick conditions for that very reason.
Also, when you use cruise control, you tend to go into auto-pilot mode. Leaning back, more relaxed, not exactly in that heightened awareness, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality you should have while driving in hazardous weather conditions.
The only way to stop wheels from spinning out of control when you hydroplane is to immediately reduce power. An activated cruise control system applies continuous power, keeping the wheels spinning. But because your foot usually isn't right next to the pedals when you use cruise control, by the time you break or disengage the cruise control, it may be too late - you may have already lost control.