Gridlock Guy: Oh cruise control, how have we just become friends?

After 19 years of driving, learning the wonders of cruise control

Hey there, little guy. You’ve been sitting on the side of my steering wheel for ages now. And you’ve just been staring at me, surely wondering why I never as much as gave you a try. Alas, cruise control — in a moment of embarrassment and failure I finally turned to you. You were there for me when I needed your wisdom and steadiness the most, and you continue to be.

You see, I normally fight against driving aids. “Who needs backup cameras? I have mirrors,” I would say. I have always enjoyed the challenge of driving. Changing lanes, speeding up, slowing down — those things are at the top of my list. The NASCAR fan and observer in me doesn’t influence my speed as much as my desire to efficiently juke around slow pokes in the fast lane and continue on my merry way. The desire to “defeat” that unaware family in that Suburban whetted my appetite for an imaginary checkered flag that only I could ever enjoy.

And the advent of the GPS device and then Google Maps gave a newer joy to long car trips. While I use the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to steer around Atlanta traffic incidents, Google Maps is my weapon of choice for the hours-long drives to the beaches in Florida or the races in North Carolina and Virginia. And of the array of trivial things that can give me joy, no frivolous sensation galvanizes me more than shaving entire minutes from my ETA on a long trip. Victory! My driving talents and my supposed courage to dare travel 90 mph sometimes were validated.

But there is a zero percent chance that I’ll get a trophy at the end of those long drives for making them one song-length shorter. No. But the chances of getting a ticket for hanging in the upper registers of the double-digit speed column are slightly higher.

My first ticket of any kind was a speeding ticket near Lavonia in 2005 — 89 mph in a 70. But my ‘81 Malibu hadn’t met you, cruise control. My ‘97 Thunderbird had you, though, in 2006 when College Park PD nipped me at 86 in a (ridiculous) 55 zone. Thankfully, I kept my license, as I had just turned 21. Over the years I have ignored you, but I probably wouldn’t have used you on the side roads of Doraville or Avondale where I’ve been caught doing a more-modest 15 over. Police in Jacksonville some time ago nipped me at a similar clip after I missed an exit and was trying to quickly get back on my route.

Oh, cruise control. I’ve been driving for 19 years. I’ve gotten warnings on a side street in Alpharetta and just after entering Greenville on I-85. No tickets then, thankfully. But hey, I just lost track. I wasn’t trying to go that fast. I was fine. In fact, I never even considered you. I just knew I needed to mind my speed and I would … until complacency would yet again metastasize.

But I didn’t get a slap on my oblivious wrist in Vienna, Georgia, on Friday, May 1. While driving our new SUV — and still getting used to how easily it can accelerate — I was averaging 80-85 mph and going with the flow of traffic on I-75/southbound. I don’t know how, but before I realized I eclipsed 90, I passed a squad car coming the opposite direction. The flashing blues illuminated.

I slowed down and moved a lane to my right as the Georgia State Patrol car switched directions in the turnaround and came my way. Dang, but maybe it wasn’t for me. I kept plugging along as they neared and knew they sought me when they slowed to my speed. I pulled over in actual defeat.

93 mph in a 70 was the inarguable charge. Guilty, the verdict. I asked if we could get a break, but the trooper very respectfully said 93 mph doesn’t get that consideration. And rightfully so. And I am being honest when I say that I wasn’t trying to go 90-plus. I was great with 80. But I was relying completely on my feel and attention to maintain that consistency. And if I had kept the speed slightly more modest, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have yet another ticket (and my first in more than five years).

Then my wonderful, wise brand-new bride, Momo, chimed in. She didn’t ream my posterior for daring to get a ticket or for being careless. She just said she’s glad we aren’t hurt. Then she told me about her longtime relationship with you, cruise control.

Momo had made a comment that week about how she got better fuel mileage than me, something I scoffed at aloud. But I knew this was probably true, as she is a very responsible and trained driver. She said that I speed up and slow down too much and she uses you, cruise control, to maintain pace. While conceptually I knew you, I never had tried and didn’t want to bother with it. I learned you quickly after my latest infraction.

Now, instead of worrying about winnowing down my ETA on the GPS app, I watch the average-miles-per-gallon feature on my car’s fuel gauge. Staying locked-in at 78 mph for the rest of our drive to Jacksonville and then in the coming days for our stint in Savannah and then back home to Atlanta, I got the average mpg up from 24.6 to 25.2! And I thought that deploying you would make me less attentive on the road. Not at all.

I still maintain that I didn’t drive dangerously when I would push 90 mph. But I certainly was less efficient and I had a far higher risk of getting a ticket. Cruise control, God bless you. You have taken my unsteady lead foot out of the arsenal of tools that can inflict harm on me. I am not too proud to admit that I am so glad to have finally befriended you. And I cannot wait until our next trip together.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin' Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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