INGLEWOOD, California – Driving without your hands on the wheel while piloting a heavy-duty pickup weighing more than 6,000 pounds on the 105 in Los Angeles seems like an extremely bad idea. When it’s hooked up to a trailer that can weigh at least twice as much, it seems like… well, whatever is at least twice as bad as “very bad.” Irreparably stupid?

And yet there I sat, my hands in my lap and my right foot on the carpet as I… Chevy Silverado HD towed a 20 foot box trailer. Was it filled to the brim with concrete? I doubt it, but the Silverado HD’s ability to tow the trailer wasn’t in question today. It was his ability to do it himself, or at least mostly alone, with a human there just watching the road ahead and taking over if necessary. Intervention was never necessary, so I can’t say it made me feel particularly useful. I even missed an exit, so it’s a net loss for people on the scorecard.

To summarize: Super Cruise is GM‘s name for its advanced driver assistance system that automatically accelerates, brake, keeping a distance from the vehicle in front, keeping itself in the center of the lane and even changing lanes automatically without (and this is the crucial part) the driver having contact with the steering wheel or pedals. The driver simply has to set the speed and following distance, and, crucially, maintain eye contact with the road ahead. A special steering wheel with lighting lights up green when the system is switched on. It only works on controlled roads mapped by GM, including wide open stretches of snowy nowhere, like the one pictured above (not driving is hard enough, did you expect me to take car-to-car photos too?) as well as busy city highways with stop-and-go traffic.

In fact, Super Cruise also works with “all trailer-capable vehicles”, and given that a large number of its equipped models are body-on-frame trucks and SUVs, which is a significant share. Not surprisingly, there are some limitations. Automatic lane changing is a no-no while towing, and if the truck estimates you’re towing anything beyond the gross vehicle weight rating, it prevents Super Cruise from activating.

How does it know all that? Simple really. It knows a trailer is connected because it’s almost certainly connected to the truck, and even if it isn’t, the parking sensors can tell there’s something behind it. The weight estimate is then measured using the engine and brake loads relative to the gross basis weight of the truck.

But just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, right? In any case, I found it difficult to tell my brain that this was the case, as I kept finding my left hand crawling back onto the handlebars without making a concerted effort to do so. Nevertheless, I felt more confident with Super Cruise activated. I concentrated almost as much as normal, but had a safety net. It felt like this perception would be even stronger and more favorable on those wide open stretches of highway, where you were more likely to start fiddling with the infotainment system, your phone, your Arby’s sandwich… staring at the landscape, yelling at your kids… .you get the idea. In short, when you’re in charge of a two-piece vehicle that weighs 18,000 pounds, having a co-pilot or emergency backup isn’t such a terrible idea. The fact that the system prevents you from mishandling it makes it difficult to see the downside.

Would I imagine wanting to use it in a standoff on the 105? Well, no, but then no one would ever want to ride the 105. In fact, this was an exercise designed to show that Super Cruise can be used while towing, even in an unlikely, extreme situation. It did, and it did it without any problems. In other words: not a bad idea at all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *