What is cruise control?

From maintaining a set speed to driving your car in traffic jams: the complete guide to cruise control systems

BuyaCar team
Jul 12, 2017

Cruise control keeps your car driving at a set speed by taking control of the accelerator and adjusting power when needed. It gives your right foot a rest on long journeys and reduces the need to look at the speedometer.

First introduced on American Chrysler cars in 1958, cruise control was initially seen as a hi-tech autopilot for cars, even though the driver was still responsible for braking, steering and monitoring the road. This was illustrated by the urban legend of a motorhome driver who crashed after set his cruise control and then popping into the back to make a cup of coffee, thinking that the vehicle would continue the journey.

But in recent years, cruise control has become the basis for driverless technology, which has slowly been creeping into cars.

It began with the launch of adaptive cruise control (ACC), which uses sensors that detect a vehicle ahead. If it slows down, then ACC will reduce power or apply the brakes to maintain a safe distance. The very latest systems are able to slow the car down to a stop.

Cruise control is now a common feature on all types of vehicles but some drivers are still nervous about leaving the car to do part of the work. A survey by our sister site, Carbuyer, found that a fifth of motorists never use their car’s cruise control system.

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How do you operate cruise control?

Typically, the controls required to operate it are grouped on one of the car’s indicator stalks or on the steering wheel.

To switch it on, you’ll often press a button marked with the symbol for cruise control: a speedometer symbol with an arrow pointing to a set speed (seen on the stalk below)


The most common way to operate cruise control is by using the following buttons:

Set Push this to activate the system. It’ll hold the speed the car is doing.

Cancel Not the off switch but a button that just pauses the system, if you get stuck behind a slower car, for example. Touching the brake pedal does the same thing.

Res or Resume Press this to reactivate the cruise control after it’s paused. The car will return to the speed you originally set.

Up and Down (also + and -): These adjust the cruise control’s set speed. If you’re on a motorway and approach a set of roadworks with a lower speed limit, you can press the minus button reduce the set speed, for example.

You can always override cruise control by using the vehicle’s pedals: pressing the brake will instantly pause the system and slow the car in exactly the same way as if the system was off. Pressing the accelerator will increase the car’s speed. When you take your foot off the pedal, the cruise control will usually remain on and return the car to its set speed.

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When do you use cruise control?

A basic cruise control system is best on fast, empty routes such as motorways or A-roads, where you can keep going at the same speed for mile after mile.

It’s not well-suited to twisting roads, where you have to slow for corners, or in traffic with variable speeds. Unless you have adaptive cruise control (see below), you’ll probably find it easier to control your speed yourself, or use a speed limiter, which is often fitted in cars with cruise control.


What is ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control)?

ACC uses a radar, camera or lasers at the front of the car, which can detect vehicles ahead of you - typically up to 200 metres away.

This enables cars with ACC to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front, by slowing down when needed. The first ACC systems could only slow gradually, by reducing engine power, but modern systems take control of the brakes and can slow the car to a stop.

The ability of these systems vary and they may not spot people or small objects in front of the car. They can’t identify tight corners which you’ve got to slow down for, either, so you’ve still got to watch the road as carefully as when you’re not using it.

Cars with ACC allow you to set the distance to the vehicle in front, usually ranging from slightly too close for comfort to what feels like the length of a football pitch.

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What is cruise control with traffic jam assist?

Traffic jam assist is an advanced form of ACC, which operates in crawling traffic. When speeds fall, your car will reduce the gap to the car in front, and will stop right behind it if you’re unlucky enough to find traffic grinding to a halt. If it’s at a standstill for more than a couple of seconds, you’ll probably need to nudge the accelerator to set the car going again and reactivate the cruise control.

It’s often used in conjunction with self-steering systems that allow your car to follow the vehicle in front without the need to touch the steering wheel at low speeds.



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