As with so many automotive innovations, cruise control was once the preserve of high-end luxury cars.

The first car to have cruise control was the 1958 Chrysler Imperial - the feature was called ‘Auto Pilot’.

Today, cruise control is installed in many models as-standard.

Electronic cruise control buttons

What is cruise control?

Cruise control is an electronic system that makes it easier and more relaxing to manage long distance journeys, by allowing you to take your foot off the accelerator.

It keeps the vehicle at a constant speed, increasing engine power based on gradients and headwinds. 

You still need to change gears on manual transmission models before engaging cruise control. On automatic vehicles, gear changes are carried out by the system.


What are the benefits of cruise control?

Comfort on long trips

The key advantage of cruise control is that it makes longer trips more comfortable.

Because you can take your foot off the pedal, you can move your legs around and get them into a comfortable position. 

 

Helps avoid speeding fines

It may also help avoid speeding fines by keeping the vehicle at a constant speed. Without it, it's easy to creep over the speed limit by accident. 

 

It may save fuel

Because cruise control helps you maintain a constant speed, you may use less fuel than you would constantly accelerating and braking manually. 


How to use cruise control

The location of the cruise control buttons varies between models.

There will be an 'on/off' button, and others for increasing (SET+) or reducing (SET-) the cruising speed. There will also be a cancel button (CAN) and a resume cruising (RES) button.

Note that icons and buttons vary between models.

Read your car's manual to understand exactly how your system works.

Speed limitation control buttonsHow does cruise control work?

In action, when the cruise control button is activated, an icon should appear on the dashboard or screen.

You would then accelerate to the desired speed and press the (SET+) button to begin cruising. The cruise control icon will turn green, confirming the set speed.

You can then leave your foot off the accelerator and the car will maintain the desired level of engine power.

You should always keep your feet near the pedals, in case a hazard appears.

Once cruising, you can adjust the speed with the (SET+) and (SET-) buttons. One press will  increase or reduce speed by one mile an hour. Holding the button down will increase or decrease speed more quickly. 

You can also use the accelerator pedal to manually increase speed, then set the cruise control.

 

Cancelling cruise control

You can cancel cruise control by pressing the cancel button (CAN), and on most cars it will also be cancelled if you step on the brake or clutch pedals. 

On the display, the icon will be greyed-out to show the system is on standby. You can resume cruising at the previous speed by pressing the resume (RES) button.

Once used, the standby can be left on - it will simply cancel when the vehicle is switched off. 

 

When is cruise control unsafe to use?

It is not safe to use cruise control while in heavy traffic, on steep hills, winding roads, or whenever you need to slow down or speed up a lot - such as in urban areas. This is because you need to maintain more precise control over the vehicle in these potentially more hazardous locations. 

Can I use cruise control on a driving test?

Yes, you can use cruise control on your driving test, but you may find it is an unnecessary distraction - unless you are very familiar with how it works. 

Busy motorway traffic

What is adaptive cruise control?

Adaptive cruise control is available on more upmarket models.

It uses radar to 'see' other vehicles on the road, and automatically modifies speed in order to maintain a safe distance from them.

Some cars even do this from a standstill, making traffic jams much easier to deal with.

The first car with radar-assisted cruise control was the 1999 Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W220) and the CL-Class.

 

Tips for using cruise control:
  • Use cruise control in suitable sections of road
  • Use the SET button to activate cruise control once you've accelerated to the desired speed
  • Increase or decrease cruise control speed with the SET buttons
  • Keep your feet in position in case a hazard appears