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Is It Safe to Use Cruise Control While Towing an RV?

Is it safe to use cruise control while towing an RV? This highly-debated question has valid arguments on both sides… 

A recent post in our RV Lifestyle Facebook group brought up the question of using cruise control while pulling an RV. Christine wrote:

“How often do you use cruise control or adaptive cruise control while pulling your RV? We’re looking at different trucks and some don’t have either and that might be a deal breaker.”

Many commentators have strong opinions on the matter. Interestingly, both people for and against using it referenced similar safety concerns. Some feel safer using it. Some feel less safe. 

So, is it safe to use cruise control while towing? The answer comes down to personal preference and level of comfort. The following can help you determine if using cruise control while towing is safe for you

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Normal Cruise Control vs. Adaptive Cruise Control

You’ll notice that Christine’s post references two types of cruise control: normal or adaptive cruise control.

“Normal” cruise control was the standard until recently, as advancements have led to adaptive cruise control. 

We’ll assume you know what normal cruise control is and just jump into the newer option of adaptive cruise control. We’ll also address whether “newer” means better.

What Is Adaptive Cruise Control?

cruise control

Adaptive cruise control (ACC), also known as smart cruise control, is an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS). It uses radar or cameras to automatically adjust the speed of a vehicle based on the distance to the vehicle in front of it. 

The system can maintain a safe following distance, even in stop-and-go traffic, automatically accelerating or decelerating as necessary. 

ACC is designed to make highway driving safer, more comfortable, and less stressful by reducing driver fatigue and the likelihood of accidents caused by human error. But, as people argue, just because it’s designed to be better doesn’t mean it is…

Is Adaptive Cruise Control Better?

By maintaining a safe following distance, ACC can help reduce the risk of accidents caused by sudden stops or slowdowns, particularly on highways. However, it’s important to note that ACC is not foolproof and may not be suitable for all driving situations. 

For example, in heavy traffic, ACC may not be able to maintain a safe following distance, and it may not be able to detect and respond to sudden changes in traffic patterns or road conditions. In some cases, it may be necessary to disable ACC and rely on manual driving to ensure safety.

Is ACC Too Good?

Furthermore, many people feel that adaptive cruise control is overly reactive. From their experiences, they argue that ACC reacts too quickly or strongly, resulting in more jolting responses to traffic.

Others argue that ACC makes drivers too comfortable, making them lower their guard and not pay attention as closely as they should. With the rise of self-driving cars, some people may misunderstand the feature, too. 

As hard as that last point may be to believe, there are many true stories of RVers crashing because they thought normal cruise control worked like autopilot. So, it’s not hard to imagine people mistaking ACC for the same.

Is It Safe to Use Cruise Control While Towing an RV? 1
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Do Most RVers Use Cruise Control?

If you look at the comments to the Facebook post as an unofficial poll, the preferences are split almost right down the middle. It really comes down to personal preference and which makes you feel safer. 

Is It SAFE to Use Cruise Control?

There are compelling arguments for and against using cruise control while towing. People pointed out safety concerns either way, as well as concerns over the health of their tow vehicle.

We touched upon some of the arguments above. But let’s take a closer look at both sides of the argument… 

Arguments for Using Cruise Control

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The most common arguments in favor of cruise control address gas mileage, wear and tear, and safety. Let’s take a look at those. 

1. Better Gas Mileage

Many RVers noted they get better gas mileage when they use cruise control. But it’s not just their opinion. Studies have shown that smooth driving (not accelerating or braking too often) can increase fuel economy by 15-30%.

A study by Volvo concluded that adaptive cruise control can increase fuel economy by 5-7% compared to a vehicle being driven manually.

Maintaining a steady speed is, in fact, one of our 11 Tips to Get Better Gas Mileage in Your RV

2. Less Wear and Tear on Tow Vehicle

This is also a benefit of steady driving. Maintaining a steady speed as much as possible puts less wear and tear on your brakes, fuel system, and tires. 

Although there are times when cruise control may put more strain on your vehicle than manual driving. As Robert pointed out in the comments, “Your tranny and RPMs will tell you when it’s not appropriate.” 

If your vehicle’s transmission sounds like it’s straining or it’s holding at a high RPM, then you should adjust your cruise control speed or switch over to manual.

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3. Reduced Driver Fatigue

It’s no secret that driver fatigue is dangerous. The CDC even states that the danger is similar to alcohol impairment.

Many commentators shared that they use cruise control because it lessens fatigue and makes them more comfortable on long road trips. By not being fatigued or distracted by discomfort, they drive better. 

You’ll see the counterpoint to this safety argument in the “Against Cruise Control” section below.

Exceptions for Those In Favor of Cruise Control

It’s worth noting that most commentators favoring cruise control clarified some exceptions. Without these exceptions, you might not actually reap the above benefits.

Here are the “only if” exceptions that RVers specified:

  • Use only on flat roads
  • Use only in mild traffic
  • Use only in dry conditions
  • Use only if the owner’s manual doesn’t advise against it

To expand on one point, it is not recommended to use cruise control in wet conditions because constant speed can actually increase your chance of hydroplaning. Furthermore, the cruise control system may interpret sliding as a speed decrease and mistakenly speed up in slippery conditions. 

Arguments Against Using Cruise Control

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RVers that responded to the post made some valid points against using cruise control. Here is their reasoning in further detail. 

1. Shouldn’t Use When Towing (But Okay Otherwise)

There is an important distinction between using cruise control in a passenger car vs. using cruise control when towing an RV. Towing a big, heavy trailer or 5th wheel certainly increases your driving risks and can, arguably, make cruise control more dangerous.

Some RVers pointed out that some cruise control systems are not equipped to adjust to the added weight and force of a towed RV. This can result in strain when auto-accelerating.

In the case of adaptive cruise control, the system may not react quickly or strongly enough to stop your truck and trailer in time. 

2. Better to Maintain Complete Control of Your Vehicle

Quite a few people argued that it’s always better to maintain complete control of your vehicle. Many did admit that this is a personal preference that made them feel safer.

One can also argue that if your foot is not on the gas pedal, it is further from the brake pedal. So, your reaction time to press the brakes may be longer than if your foot controlled your speed.

3. Driver Gets TOO Comfortable

As a counterpoint to reducing driver fatigue, some people say that cruise control makes drivers too comfortable, both mentally and physically. Mentally, they might not focus as much, especially if they rely too heavily on adaptive cruise control.

Physically, drivers may become sleepy because they’re not actively moving as much to control their speed. As stated in the “in favor” counterpoint, sleepy driving is as bad as drunk driving.

So, it’s important to consider how your body reacts to cruise control. Do you get sleepy or distracted when using cruise control? Or does cruise control help you focus on the road instead of your discomfort? 

It’s fair to compare responses to cruise control to people listening to music or a podcast while driving. Listening helps some people stay awake while others turn it off to focus. It’s different for different people.

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2 Responses to “Is It Safe to Use Cruise Control While Towing an RV?”

March 28, 2023at11:43 am, Mike Alves said:

We have a 34 ft 5th wheel and have traveled all over the USA. I use manual transmission when towing and I use cruise control only on flat and dry roads. If traffic starts to slow down or get heavy I turn cruise off.

Reply

March 30, 2023at9:30 am, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Good advice – thanks for sharing, Mike! Team RV Lifestyle

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