A federal report finds that electronic stability control, or ESC, reduces fatal crashes involving a single car by 36 percent. The corresponding percentage for SUVs, pickups, and vans is 63 percent. Fatal single-vehicle rollover crashes are reduced even more — 70 percent for cars and 88 percent for the other vehicles.
These findings, published in July by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), update a 2004 agency report, which also showed ESC's lifesaving benefits. Two Institute studies show similar effects (see "ESC reduces multiple-vehicle crashes as well as single-vehicle ones," June 13, 2006, and "ESC reduces deaths, especially in single-vehicle crashes," Jan. 3, 2005).
ESC helps by monitoring vehicle response to steering and detecting when a vehicle starts to stray from a driver's intended path or the rear of the vehicle starts to spin out. Then ESC automatically brakes individual wheels to maintain the intended direction and, thus, driver control.
Responding to accumulating evidence of ESC's effectiveness, NHTSA issued a regulation in April to require this feature on passenger vehicles by the 2012 model year. In issuing the requirement, NHTSA estimated that 5,300 to 9,500 lives will be saved annually when every passenger vehicle is equipped with ESC. This is in line with the Institute's conclusion that ESC may save as many as 10,000 lives each year. Most of the benefit will be in rollover crashes, in which NHTSA predicts that deaths may be reduced by 4,200 to 5,500 annually.
Automakers may be moving faster than NHTSA requires. About 2 of every 3 new passenger vehicle models already have ESC. This proportion is expected to rise in the years before the federal rule takes effect.