What cruise control is and when to use it

Cruise control has been around for decades. In the past, you’d only find it in luxury cars but it’s now a common feature in most new cars on the market. But lots of drivers still don’t feel confident enough to use it.

It can make long journeys easier and take the stress out of driving, so it’s worth taking the time to figure out.

Keep reading to learn what cruise control is, how to switch it on and set the speed, and which roads to use it on.

In this article

Driver assistance

What is cruise control?

Cruise control is an electronic system in a car that lets you set a speed limit and keeps your car driving at that speed. It means you can take your foot off the pedal and the car will keep going steadily.

How does cruise control work?

Cruise control has to be activated by the driver to work. Once switched on and set, it then regulates the engine to keep the car driving at a constant speed.

It even works out how much power the car needs to keep the same speed, for example if you’re driving uphill or downhill.

  • When cruise control’s on, you can take your foot off the accelerator and rest it on the floor.
  • You’ll still need to steer the car and pay attention to the road.
  • UK driving laws mean you always need to have at least one hand on the steering wheel, so you can’t drive hands-free.
  • If you use the brake pedal, it’ll pause the cruise control for safety reasons.

Cruise control’s designed to be used on long, straight roads that don’t have many twists and turns, like motorways and A roads.

What’s the difference between cruise control and speed limiters?

Speed limiters are similar to cruise control as they let you set a maximum speed that your car can’t go over. But unlike cruise control, you still need to use the accelerator pedal to maintain your speed.

Some cars let you manually set a speed limit. This can be really useful in busy speed-limit zones so you can speed up and slow down with the flow of traffic without ever breaking the speed limit.

Some commercial vehicles have a speed-limiter hardwired in. This can’t be set or over-ridden by the driver.  For example, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) can’t go above a maximum speed of 60mph even on a motorway.

Find out more about speed limiters.

How do I use cruise control?

Different makes and models of cars may work in slightly different ways, but many vehicles will follow the same basic steps.

Before you start, make sure that you learn where all the controls are and what they do. It can be dangerous to fumble around with unfamiliar buttons while you’re driving.

1 - Switch on cruise control
  • Turn on the cruise control system by pressing the button - usually on the steering wheel or stalk.
  • The ‘on' switch will activate the system but won’t set a speed.
  • Usually, a light will appear on the dashboard to indicate that the cruise control’s on.

2 - Set speed
  • When you’re driving at your desired speed, press the ‘set’ button.
  • This will tell the car to keep going at the same speed.
  • You can now take your foot off the accelerator pedal.
  • If you use the accelerator, the car will go back to the set speed once you take your foot off the pedal.

3 - Increase or decrease speed
  • If you want to change the speed while you’re driving, use the up or down buttons.
  • ‘Up’ arrow or '+' sign will let you increase the speed.
  • ‘Down’ arrow or '-' sign will let you decrease the speed.
  • Pushing the speed buttons once will usually change the speed in small increments, while holding the button down might do a larger increment like 5mph or 10mph.

4 - Cancel
  • This doesn’t switch off the cruise control system, it pauses the current setting.
  • You can press this if you get stuck behind a slow car, for example.
  • Pressing the brake pedal will also pause the current setting.

5 - Resume
  • If you’d like to restart cruise control, press ‘resume’ or ‘res’.
  • This will start the previously programmed speed setting again.

6 - Switch cruise control off
  • When you’ve finished driving or no longer need cruise control, switch it off with the main button.

Articles you might like:

When should I use cruise control?

Cruise control's meant to be used on long stretches of straight road. If you’re going to be driving for miles without any speed limit changes and with minimal steering, then cruise control can help make the journey easier.

You can use cruise control on:

  • Long, straight roads with 1 speed limit
  • Motorways
  • A roads

Remember that you still need to concentrate on the road ahead and steer the car. Cruise control won’t help you to avoid any hazards or obstacles.

When not to use cruise control

Cruise control isn’t good for roads with:

  • Lots of bends and turns
  • Lots of hills
  • Stop-start traffic
  • Bad weather

It could be dangerous to use cruise control in bad weather. In icy conditions and when driving in fog, you need more control over your speed. It can also be dangerous in heavy rain when there’s a risk of aquaplaning.

We also wouldn’t advise you to use cruise control at night or if you’re feeling a bit tired. With less to do behind the wheel, there’s more danger that you’ll fall asleep. Remember not to drive tired and to take regular breaks.

Learn more about driver fatigue and how to avoid it.

Can cruise control save me money?

There’s some evidence that cruise control can make your driving more fuel efficient. It can be hard to maintain a constant speed, so cruise control helps you to drive without constantly accelerating and decelerating.

But cruise control can also be inefficient sometimes, like when using extra power to maintain speeds going uphill.

The difference to your petrol costs will probably be hard to notice. The main benefits of cruise control are to make driving easy and less tiring.

What is adaptive cruise control?

More modern cars may use adaptive cruise control (ACC). This is like a more advanced version of cruise control which users lasers, sensors or radar at the front of the car to detect other cars. These can tell how far away the car in front is.

  • ACC will match the speed of the car in front of you (as long as it’s within the speed you’ve set).
  • It’ll maintain a safe distance behind the car in front.
  • The system often allows you to set the distance between yourself and the car in front.

For example, if you come up behind a slower moving car, the ACC will automatically slow your speed down to keep a safe distance from the car in front. If the car in front of you speeds off, the ACC won’t speed up to follow but will instead steadily increase your speed until it reaches the limit you’ve set.

Some ACCs can only slow down slowly by using less throttle, while others can take control of the brakes and actively brake. If it has autonomous emergency braking, you car will stop if the vehicle in front of it suddenly stops.

What is cruise control with traffic jam assist?

Traffic jam assist is a type of adaptive cruise control that some cars have. It’s designed to help reduce driver fatigue in stop-start traffic.

The traffic jam assist can accelerate, decelerate and brake when driving at low speeds to keep pace with the traffic ahead.

With breakdown cover, we’ll even help if you have an accident.

Buy breakdown cover

What is semi-autonomous cruise control?

Semi-autonomous cruise control is the latest development in cruise control. As well as keeping you at a constant speed and a safe distance from the car in front, it also:

  • Helps to keep you in lane
  • Can steer around gentle corners

It’s currently found on luxury models like Audi and Tesla as well as the latest e-vehicles like the Nissan Leaf. It’s likely that more and more cars will begin to use sensors for lane-keep assist technology.

The future of cruise control

Are the latest features of cruise control one step closer to driverless cars? The latest innovations include systems to warn of of hazards up ahead and prevent you from moving into a lane where there’s a vehicle in your blind spot.

Nissan and other manufacturers are even looking at connected cars that will share data with one another to help autonomous systems learn how to avoid hazards and react to certain situations.

Find out more about the future of driverless cars.

Published:18 November 2020 | Updated: 18 November 2020 | Author: The AA

Buy breakdown cover

We get more people back on the road than anyone else