If you've purchased a new car in the past few years, chances are good it came with electronic stability control. You may not even know that your car has it, since the system operates in the background and is usually transparent to the driver, stepping in only when a loss of vehicle control is detected.
It’s easy to forget that modern cars even have such advanced safety systems, and a new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that stability control systems save a significant number of lives. Based on the NHTSA’s data, electronic stability control cut crashes by 6 percent from 1997 through 2009. More impressive is that the technology reduced fatal crashes in passenger cars by 23 percent, and reduced fatal crashes in light trucks and vans by 20 percent. Factoring in all vehicles, the agency found that electronic stability control reduces the risk of a fatal crash by 18 percent.
Using a series of sensors, electronic stability control systems can detect wheel spin, unintended lateral acceleration or any number of other conditions that could potentially lead to a crash or rollover. The systems intervene by cutting power to the drive wheels and/or applying the brakes on individual wheels to regain traction. The net result is that even untrained drivers can recover from a sudden loss of traction, and usually without much drama.
Introduced by Mercedes-Benz and BMW in 1987, electronic stability control has matured from a luxury-car-only technology to a more mainstream one. As of 2009, more than 80 percent of the cars offered for sale in the U.S. had stability control systems, and the system is required in all passenger cars for the 2012 model year. As the number of vehicles on the road equipped with stability control systems increases, it stands to reason that they'll have an even bigger impact on the overall vehicle fatality rate.