What if we told you that all 2012 models were going to have, standard, a system that will reduce fatal single-car crashes by half and cut multiple-car crash fatalities by a fifth?
Sound like a good idea? It sure does to us, car insurance companies, and the government: the technology called Electronic Stability Control, or ESC, is required by law to be installed in all new model cars. But what is ESC, exactly, and how does it work?
ESC is essentially a technology designed to prevent skids. It’s related to the traction control systems that come in high-end sports cars. In fact, the technology has its roots in those systems that first came on the market in the late 1980s. The difference is that those systems were designed to keep traction while you were speeding up by individually throttling or braking certain wheels, and these systems are designed to slow you down enough to keep you from skidding or rolling your car by selectively applying the brakes to different wheels.
For example, let’s say that you go into a curve a little too fast and oversteer. The ESC system would use the data provided by sensors distributed throughout the car, figure out you were oversteering, and apply just enough braking to the outer front wheel that you won’t lose control; the torque from your steering is balanced out. It sounds a little counter-intuitive, putting a computer in charge of your brakes, but in road tests, it works, and stunningly well.
For example, most current SUVs include ESC systems. You might remember back in the late ’90s, when consumer research showed that some SUVs were top-heavy and extremely dangerous if they cornered too fast: ESC systems minimize that risk and have put SUVs near the top of the heap in terms of safety. Yep, they really are that effective.
There are some concerns about ESC systems, not least that drivers might get a little too confident in their ability to handle corners. To counter this, there’s a system that chimes and alerts the driver they’re about to trigger the ESC system, which also serves to alert the driver to any malfunctions.
It’s also not a racing tool; ESC won’t let you turn corners faster, although it will allow you to corner better by helping to correct your driving.
But how does this prevent fatalities? In two ways: first, it often prevents crashes due to inclement conditions, which cause drivers to lose control of their car. For example, if you’re hydroplaning, the ESC system will kick in and help you get a grip on the road, or if you’re on ice, it’ll help keep you from skidding out. But for the crashes that it can’t prevent, due to the conditions of the road or just simple bad luck, it will at least reduce the speed, angle, and severity of the impact, turning a crash that might have caused a major injury into a trip to the body shop and an embarrassed phone call to the house for a ride.
If you’re not going to be in the market for a car for a while, but still want ESC, talk to your dealer and your car insurer; you may be able to get it installed in your car, and it may lower your premium depending on your policy. Installing the system keeps you and your family safe, and keeps your car in good condition, and that’s a win for everybody.