How to Get the Most out of Cruise Control

Cruise control lets your car maintain speed with just a button instead of a gas pedal. Semi-autonomous and adaptive cruise control systems go even further
Written by Brenna Swanston
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Updated on Jan 11, 2023
With the press of a button, cruise control can make your long drives safer and simpler. This feature helps you maintain your driving speed without keeping your foot on the gas pedal. 
Thanks to modern technology, many newer cars offer adaptive cruise control or even semi-autonomous cruise control, both of which can make your time behind the wheel even easier. But before you start driving with this feature, you should understand how to use cruise control safely.
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The basics of cruise control

In most cars, the cruise control buttons are either on a steering column stalk or on the steering wheel itself. These buttons typically include:
  • An on-off switch
  • A "set" button, which you use to select the speed you want to maintain
  • A button marked "+", which you can press to increase the maintained speed after setting it
  • A button marked "-", which decreases the maintained speed after setting it
  • A "cancel" button, which disengages cruise control
  • A "resume" button, which resumes cruise control at the previously set speed after disengaging it
If you brake or depress the clutch, this will cancel cruise control as well. If you press on the gas while using cruise control, this will override the set speed, and your car will accelerate. These features come standard in all cruise control systems.
Key Takeaway To cancel cruise control, you can press the "cancel" button, brake, or depress the clutch.

How does adaptive cruise control work?

Adaptive cruise control, also called intelligent cruise control, gets a bit fancier (and safer) by automatically maintaining a certain distance from the car in front of you. Adaptive cruise control systems have all the same features as standard systems, plus a radar, camera, or sensor mounted on the front of the car.
This sensor detects when a vehicle is right ahead of you in your lane, and the adaptive cruise control system adjusts to keep a set distance behind that car. 
You can customize the distance you want to maintain between your car and the one in front of you, but only to a certain extent. Intelligent cruise control systems are programmed to maintain a minimum safe distance no matter what.
Some adaptive cruise control systems come with more bells and whistles. Your car may brake or even come to a complete stop in traffic. It might also automatically accelerate again when the traffic picks up pace.
Adaptive cruise control has become popular among newer cars. You can find this feature in the following models, to name just a few:

How does semi-autonomous cruise control work?

Semi-autonomous cruise control systems are the cream of the crop, as they allow for—you guessed it—semi-automatic driving. These systems use the same features as adaptive cruise control with added lane-keeping assist (LKA) abilities.
LKA enables a car to gently steer itself if it begins to veer out of its lane. In most semi-autonomous systems, LKA also helps the vehicle steer itself around gentle curves in the road. 
In some cars from Tesla and Mercedes-Benz, these systems even allow for autonomous lane-switching.
For safety reasons, LKA will only take over for a few seconds before shutting off entirely. If you take your hands off the wheel for too long, the system will sound alarms and disengage.
Keep in mind that you need to stay focused while driving, no matter how advanced your cruise control is. You can't trust any cruise control system 100%, as shown when
Tesla recalled nearly 300,000 cars
for cruise control issues.
Key Takeaway With semi-autonomous cruise control, you can take your hands off the wheel for only a few seconds before the lane-keeping assist feature shuts off.

When should I use cruise control?

Even the most advanced cruise control systems are only suitable in certain circumstances. If you find yourself in stop-and-go traffic or hazardous weather conditions, you shouldn't rely on cruise control. But if you've got clear roads and consistent speed limits ahead, cruise away.
When used correctly, cruise control can actually make driving safer. On long road trips, for example, you're more likely to get fatigued behind the wheel. Cruise control can give your muscles a break and help you conserve energy and focus.
That said, every driver is different. Some people might feel more prone to fatigue if they can stop accelerating and relax their legs. If this is you, avoid using cruise control for long stretches of time.
Likewise, you should not use cruise control if you're feeling sleepy. In those cases, avoid driving at all, since sleepy driving is never safe.

Is using cruise control bad for your car?

Cruise control will not hurt your car. It may even benefit your car in the long run, since cruise control reduces manual acceleration, and manual acceleration can wear down the engine over time.
Using cruise control may save you on gas as well. A study published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) found that cars using adaptive cruise control consumed 5 to 7% less fuel than other cars driving in similar conditions.

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