Stability control saving lives, NHTSA study finds Agency says the feature prevented an estimated 2,000-plus deaths between 2008 and 2010.

MSN Autos

By Douglas Newcomb Dec 5, 2012 12:54PM

Driving enthusiasts often decry the creep of “nanny” technology such as electronic stability control on cars -- or at least because in some vehicles it can’t be switched off. But according to a recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federally mandated feature saved more than 2,000 lives between 2008 and 2010.

"These numbers send a clear message about this technology's life-saving potential," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement released by NHTSA. "As more vehicles on the road are equipped with ESC in the coming years, we know the technology will save even more lives."

ESC helps drivers maintain control of a vehicle through computer-controlled braking of individual wheels at the instant the system senses that they’re beginning to lose directional control. NHTSA published a final rule in April 2007 requiring all passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. to include ESC. The mandate was phased in and called for all vehicles manufactured on or after Sept. 1, 2011, or model-year 2012 vehicles to include the technology.

For consumers purchasing a used vehicle who want to make sure that it comes with ESC, the agency maintains a list of 2005 to 2010 model-year vehicles that are equipped with the technology on the website. Consumers can also search by individual make and model on the site.

Even before the federal mandate, automakers had been installing ESC on vehicles for years. Mercedes-Benz introduced the safety feature in 1995 on its flagship S-Class after co-developing the technology with Bosch.

With ESC now widespread throughout the U.S. passenger-car fleet, NHTSA’s three-year analysis estimates the technology saved 634 lives in 2008, 705 lives in 2009 and 863 lives in 2010, for a total of 2,202. The estimated number of lives saved according to the report was limited to vehicles on which ESC is standard equipment, and NHTSA says "the lives saved estimates are conservative."

"NHTSA research has consistently shown ESC systems are especially effective in helping a driver maintain vehicle control and avoid some of the most dangerous types of crashes on the highway, including deadly vehicle-rollover situations or in keeping drivers from completely running off the roadway," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

With ESC proving effective at saving lives, many observers predict NHTSA will next turn its attention to
mandating emergency autonomous-braking systems that help avoid or mitigate damage in frontal collisions. In the same way that ESC debuted on higher-end cars and then became more pervasive, EAB is now following the same pattern and appearing in lower-cost cars from Subaru and Ford, for example.


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