I’m traveling on a busy northern New Jersey highway that often has drivers gripping the wheel in fear. They might, however, be even more terrified if they glance over and notice that while I’m in the driver’s seat, my hands are not on the steering wheel. I’d love to be able to reassure them I haven’t lost my mind and that in the 2018 Cadillac CT6 I’m sitting in, no-hands driving is perfectly safe.
It’s not something you can do on any road, however. The autonomous driving experience in the CT-6 is called Super Cruise. It’s the result of a massive mapping of 130,000 miles of highway around the USA that recorded every bend and straightaway in the road, including entrance and exit ramps. When married to an array of radar sensors, cameras, and GPS navigation gear, Super Cruise basically knows what the road looks like for the next 15 to 16 miles.
But I still have to pay attention to where the car is going. Super Cruise is available when a green icon on the instrument display appears and engages at the touch of a button on the steering wheel. A green belt of LED lights across the top of the steering wheel tells me Super Cruise now has control of the car. I let go of the wheel and the car maintains a steady course and speed relative to traffic.
This doesn’t mean I can take a lunch break. A camera mounted on top of the steering column is monitoring my head position and it’s pretty unforgiving. I look slightly down and to my right at the center console and the green LEDs start flashing red to the accompaniment of an audible warning. The same thing happens if I turn my head left or right. If I don’t put my hands on the wheel the car will start braking, coming to a halt if necessary. If the camera’s view of my face becomes obstructed by my hand, red lights appear and warnings sound. I do manage to hold a phone to my ear without incident, all the while hoping I don’t have to explain myself to a passing police officer. Super Cruise also will automatically disengage if the car’s cameras can’t read lane markings due to glare, for example. Super Cruise is standard equipment on the CT6 Platinum model I’m in but is available as an option on other variants for $5,000.
There is always the prospect of the unforeseen risks, like road debris or developing accidents, so I have to stay alert. But for the most part, I’m sitting in the car twiddling my thumbs which isn’t a bad thing as it relieves the tedium of having to clutch the wheel mile after uneventful highway mile. I find myself sometimes taking the wheel to pass another car just to give myself something to do. It might be better if I didn’t know that most of my phone calls would go to voicemail anyway. Otherwise, it’s very much like sitting on a train but without the option of doing other things while you travel. I think about waving both my hands at passing cars I spot out of the corner of my eye but decide not to, knowing that many are already driving scared. But they should know hands-free driving isn’t terrifying.
From $88,295; cadillac.com.