Traffic

Gridlock Guy: Enjoying the “Cruise Control Game”

Long car rides breed deep thoughts. Well, “deep” may be an exaggeration. But the monotony of wide-open freeway driving can narrow the spectrum of what one might consider entertaining.

That brings us to my recent drive down I-16, a line-straight Central Georgia bisector that pipes traffic between I-75 in Macon and I-95 in Savannah. One’s view of that drive depends on their mindset: it’s either the most mind-numbingly boring stretch ever or nice and easy and therapeutic.

Considering all the stop-and-go driving that we do, I relish a pristine block of time that involves nary the navigational turn or even a slow down.

My wife, Momo, and mom, Stephanie, joined me in a Thanksgiving morning drive from Atlanta to Savannah. Traffic was light on I-285 and I-75, so the flow was certainly easy on I-16/eastbound. Momo went to sleep and my mom was chilling on her phone in the backseat, so I sat with my thoughts behind the wheel.

Last spring, I wrote about a road trip where I landed a speeding ticket in our new car. My new relationship with cruise control bore a “game” where I watched the “miles per gallon” gauge increase instead of my previous game of filing down the “ETA” on my Google Maps navigation. I enjoyed that challenge on that trip and a few other road trips since.

So on Thanksgiving Day, while the Macy’s Parade crept along in New York City, I concocted a new car game as we cruised I-16 leaving Macon.

I hit the reset button on the steering wheel, erasing the bad gas mileage-average that city-driving created. The speed limit is 70 miles per hour on I-16, so I set the cruise control for 79. I choose nine miles per hour over the limit, because 10 and above is usually what stands out to law enforcement.

There were three goals on this straight-shot ride to Savannah: increase gas mileage, stay in the right lane as much as possible, and hit the brakes as little as possible. These kept me engaged in the silence of the car’s cabin.

When we approached slower cars, I would dial down the cruise control speed with my left thumb ahead of time. I would try hard to not mash the brake pedal. Hitting the brakes turns off cruise control and also hurts gas mileage more than just lifting on the gas. The difference between human and computer efficiencies may sometimes be infinitesimal, but the challenge was not.

My biggest insecurity with cruise control is the lack of use of my right foot. I am afraid that leaving my foot off of the pedals decreases my reaction time, if I need to react to a sudden slow down. So I try to keep that in mind - and keep my lead shoe very close to the slow and fast pedals.

Making small adjustments to speed, instead of larger brake-taps and gas-mashes, put our gas mileage at about 25.7 mpg, compared to around 24. Striving to stay in the right lane of this two-lane freeway left a passing lane open for those that wanted to zoom by and risk getting a ticket. And even if this slightly neurotic “Cruise Control Game” really didn’t save much time or gas, it kept me mentally-alert on a drive with very few attractions.

Since my wife and mom napped for some stretches on this trip, interactive car games sat on ice this past Thanksgiving. So I cranked The Beatles and Twenty One Pilots and let my hands and cruise control “Drive My Car” on our “Ride.”

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

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