Cruise Control

Gives the history and future of cruise control

Student: Ronald Huereca
Date: 11/18/2004
Topic: Cruise Control


Most new cars in the United States come with cruise control already built-in. With increasing congestion on the Interstates and highways, automobile manufacturers have begun installing a new feature called adaptive cruise control. Adaptive cruise control senses traffic conditions ahead and adjusts a vehicle’s speed to the vehicle in front of it. Cruise control and its successor, adaptive cruise control, could be another step towards the automation of driving.


Cruise control got its start back in 1945. Ralph Teetor, who happened to be blind, was the man who invented cruise control. Teetor received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. After working on several engineering jobs, including steam turbine rotors used during World War I, Ralph Teetor invented a speed cruise control device. Teetor officially received a patent for the device in 1945. Early names of cruise control were “Controlmatic”, “Speedostat”, and others. Cruise control was first offered on numerous Chrysler models starting in 1958. By the 1960s, cruise control was standard on all Cadillacs (Bellis).

The need for cruise control was apparent to Teetor, even though he himself could never get behind the wheel of a vehicle. After being driven by his lawyer, Teetor felt that cruise control was a luxurious necessity. Teetor’s lawyer tended to talk a lot while driving. Consequently, the vehicle would vary speeds as Teetor’s lawyer became distracted. To combat this problem of varying speeds, Teetor sought to create a device to manage speeds for the driver (Bellis).

Besides varying speeds, cruise control is a necessity for many drivers. For most drivers, especially American drivers where destinations are farther apart, cruise control can help the legs from getting too tired while driving. Cruise control also assists those who have trouble maintaining the legal speed limit. Cruise control helps habitual or unintentional speeders by managing speeds for the driver (Nice).

Cruise control may seem like a nice feature, but the inner-workings are quite complex. As a safety feature, cruise control will not engage at speeds less than 25 mph. Cruise control will maintain any speed above 25 mph by hitting a “Set” button. Whatever speed the vehicle is at will be maintained automatically by cruise control. The only ways to turn off the cruise control at that point is to hit the “Off” button or to tap lightly on the brakes. Most cruise control systems also have a “Resume” button. The “Resume” button is useful if cruise control is temporarily disabled and the user wishes to resume the target speed (Nice).

The successor of cruise control is called adaptive cruise control. Adaptive cruise control works just like a normal cruise control system, but the speed that is maintained is adaptive to traffic conditions. Adaptive cruise control works by using radar or a laser pointed at the cars in front of the vehicle in order to measure distance. If the system detects a slower vehicle, adaptive cruise control automatically adjusts the speed in order to match the speed of the slower vehicle. If the slower vehicle is no longer present, adaptive cruise control automatically adjusts back to the previous speed (Nelson, 2004).

For many, adaptive cruise control is a godsend. Craig Davis, who is an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Michigan, claims that people who periodically slam on their brakes on Interstates and highways are the ones who cause traffic jams. A sudden brake, he claims, sends ripple effects down the Interstate that can easily cause a traffic jam (Nelson, 2004). As many as three-quarters of traffic jams are started this way (Adaptive Cruise Control, 2004). Davis also claims that if only 20 percent of vehicles have adaptive cruise control installed, most traffic jams would be eliminated (Nelson, 2004).

Unfortunately, cruise control and its successor have its critics. The critics of cruise control claim that cruise control is not safe by any means. Sudden acceleration claims and lawsuits have fallen upon many automobile manufacturers. For instance, a jury found that a defect in a 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee caused the cruise control to accelerate automatically, which in tern injured another driver as both vehicles collided. In response to the critics of cruise control, a petitioner theorized that it is nearly impossible for cruise control to accelerate on its own. In order for sudden acceleration to occur, the vehicle would have to have suffered simultaneous and multiple electrical and mechanical failures. Of course, cruise control would be named the likely culprit of automatic acceleration because such failures would be undetectable after the collision (Anderson, 2004).

In addition to cruise control being criticized, adaptive cruise control has its problems as well. Many automobile manufacturers are reluctant to state that adaptive cruise control is a safety feature. To make this claim would be inviting lawsuits on a potentially unsafe technology (Houston, 2003).

Although adaptive cruise control is far from proven on today’s Interstates and highways, the adaptive cruise control systems are extremely smart and react much faster to changing traffic conditions than humans can. Adaptive cruise control is already being coupled with other collision avoidance systems. As integrated safety technologies become more prevalent in automobiles, the potential for the automation of driving draws ever closer (Houston, 2003).

Significance of article

Cruise control has been around since the 1940s. Although cruise control is a good feature for most vehicles, increasingly crowded Interstates and highways are simply making cruise control impractical. The response by automobile manufacturers was to make adaptive cruise control, which adjusts speeds according to traffic conditions. The benefits of using adaptive cruise control are the possible elimination of traffic jams. As adaptive cruise control systems begin to be integrated with other “sensing” safety features, the potential for the full automation of driving grows closer.


Adaptive Cruise Control: Science Fiction in the News. (2004, August 2). Retrieved November 3, 2004, from here

Anderson, A. A Note on Automobile Cruise Control Faults and Sudden Acceleration. (2004, May 29). Retrieved November 3, 2004, from here

Bellis, M. Ralph Teetor Invented Cruise Control. Retrieved November 10, 2004, from here

Houston, P. How high-tech cruise control could save lives. (2003, May 23). Retrieved November 3, 2004, from here

Nelson, H. Consumer Alert: Adaptive Cruise Control. (2004, September 13). Retrieved November 3, 2004, from here

Nice, K. How Cruise Control Systems Work. Retrieved November 3, 2004, from here

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