Driving safety took a leap in the mid-1990s when electronic stability control was introduced. Bosch, a German car supplier, first developed the system with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the BMW 7 Series. Electronic Stability Control, or ESC, is the use of speed sensors on each wheel and the ability to brake those individual wheels. ESC adds a unit that helps monitor steering wheel angles and rotation around the vertical axis of the vehicle. If the vehicle begins to travel in a direction other than the indicated steering wheel position, the ESC will brake the corresponding wheel to help the driver maintain control. Simply put, a well-designed ESC system will substantially reduce the chances that you will lose control of your car under most operating conditions. ESC systems are particularly useful for preventing loss of control that results in vehicle rollovers and for preventing loss of control while driving on slippery surfaces. Consumer Reports even shared that “electronic stability control is the best safety feature that has been introduced since seat belts.”
Many companies have changed the name of their ESC systems. Ford called it Advance Trac, Audi called it Electronic Stability Program, GM called it Stabilitrak, and Porsche called it Porsche Stability Management. It can sometimes be confusing to order on a vehicle, but all of these systems work the same way.
Over time, the ESC has become more sophisticated and less expensive. Many people now request ESC when buying a vehicle. In an analysis of the European Crash Cause Survey, it was found that in 18% of all injury crashes and 34% of all fatal crashes, the ESC would have reduced the probability of the crash or prevented it altogether. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said that equipping vehicles with stability control can reduce the risk of rollovers by more than 70% and prevent up to 9,000 fatal crashes per year.
By 2010, 85% of all vehicles had ESC. Significant reductions in single and multiple vehicle crashes have been seen when vehicles are equipped with ESCs. The government now requires ESC on all passenger vehicles manufactured in 2012 and later. Because ESC works seamlessly with antilock braking systems and traction control, these features will become standard across all segments, even low-cost models. Although this is a great step towards better driving safety, many people still buy or have bought used cars without ESC. To find out if your car is equipped with ESC, visit http://www.iihs.org/.