Automotive technology that saves lives – The Mercury News


Put simply, electronic stability control is the most important innovation in automotive safety since seat belts.

That’s the consensus of Consumer Reports, the federal government, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and many other auto industry experts.

“Our recommendation to consumers is that you want to buy a vehicle with electronic stability control,” said David Zuby, vice president of the Insurance Institute. “It’s a very effective way to reduce the risk of fatal accidents.

The good news is that the high-tech system that helps prevent rollovers and other accidents caused by an uncontrollably skidding car is found on more and more new cars and trucks today. The Insurance Institute says 73 percent of 2009 models will have stability control as standard fare, and it’s available as an option on an additional 14 percent of vehicles.

The best news is that full implementation of stability control – 100 percent of vehicles must have it by 2012, according to the federal government – could prevent thousands of deaths a year. Statistics show that half of all deaths occur in single-vehicle crashes, and half of those are preventable thanks to ESC, according to an Insurance Institute study.

Yet unlike airbags and anti-lock brakes, which most consumers are familiar with, electronic stability control remains a mystery to most motorists. This is partly because it is a complex and relatively new technology.

And it doesn’t help that automakers insist on calling it by many different names.

South Korean automaker Hyundai sees ESC as both a life-saving technology and a competitive business advantage. That’s why he puts a sticker on every new vehicle he sells (except the budget-priced Accent) touting ESC on board.

“We are certainly not a brand that adopts technology that has not been proven to work,” said John Krafcik, interim president and CEO of Fountain Valley-based Hyundai Motor America. “We cannot afford to do this. Electronic stability control certainly helps prevent fatal accidents.

When Hyundai introduced the redesigned Sonata in 2005, it was the only mid-size sedan with ESC standard, Krafcik said. Rivals such as Honda and Mazda have since added it to their Accord and Mazda6 models, while it remains an option on the best-selling Toyota Camry.

Research has shown that stability control is the No.1 deciding factor for buyers who have chosen the Sonata over the Camry, he said.

Beginning in 2008, Consumer Reports magazine demanded that its top car picks – picks closely watched by many buyers – have ESC, either as standard or as a readily available option.

“We strongly recommend that you purchase a vehicle equipped with ESC,” said Doug Love, a spokesperson for Consumer Reports.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety agrees, saying since 2007 that its Top Safety Picks must offer ESC. Its top picks for newly released small cars include three vehicles with stability control as standard (Scion xB, Subaru Impreza, VW Rabbit 4-door) and three with optional ESC (Honda Civic 4-door, Mitsubishi Lancer, Toyota Corolla). .

Joe Nolan of the Insurance Institute noted that cars are not as involved in rollovers as SUVs and pickup trucks, but “when they roll, the consequences can be fatal.”

The US Department of Transportation, along with the Insurance Institute, a nonprofit researcher funded by insurers, have done much of the research related to stability control. ESC will reduce the risk of a single-vehicle fatality by 51% and the risk of a multi-vehicle fatality by 20% for cars and SUVs, according to the institute.

The technology is particularly useful on sport utility vehicles, which tend to be heavy and more prone to tip over. ESC reduces the risk of a fatal single vehicle rollover in an SUV by 72%, according to the institute. About 10,000 Americans die each year in rollover accidents.

How many vehicles do ESC offer? Not all the time. It was an optional feature on the 2008 Mini Cooper, but became a standard feature for 2009. Other vehicles, such as the Chevy Colorado pickup, the Ford Escape hybrid SUV, the Ford F-150 pickup, and the Honda Fit subcompact added ESC for the first time. in 2009. A website,, offers a gadget where consumers can search vehicles by year, make and model to see if they have ESC.

Although standard on more new vehicles, it is affordable as an option. On a 2009 Toyota Corolla, for example, stability control is offered for $ 250. In addition, some insurance companies offer discounts on vehicles with ESC. Los Angeles-based Farmer’s Insurance offers a 5% discount on collision coverage in 38 states, including California, spokesman Jerry Davies said.

While 99 percent of 2009 model year sport utility vehicles come standard with ESC, only 37 percent of pickup trucks do. It is standard on 74% of passenger cars in the 2009 model year, up from 64% in 2008.

Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute recognize that electronic stability control systems, which are sourced from several automotive suppliers, are not the same.

“We test the systems as part of the overall performance of the vehicle. And we are seeing differences in the performance of ESC systems from vehicle to vehicle, ”said Love of Consumer Reports. “They all use slightly different algorithms, which determine when the system is triggered and how the vehicle responds.”

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Someone who drives a Corvette is likely to drive it more aggressively than someone driving a van and would likely want a stability control system to intervene less often. Some vehicles offer on / off switches for this function.

Systems differ by car type and even within a brand, said Kay Stepper, marketing manager at Robert Bosch, which supplies ESC systems to Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Toyota and others.

Yet Stepper said: “At a minimum, all are designed to offer the same level of security.”

While the number of automobile fatalities in the United States per kilometer driven has declined in recent years, the number of fatalities has remained stable at 37,000 to 39,000 per year since 1995. Safety technologies such as electronic stability control , as well as more recent innovations such as lane departure prevention systems and collision predictive systems are expected to reduce this number.

Contact Matt Nauman at or (408) 920-5701.

Electronic stability control: how it works

Electronic stability control includes speed sensors on all four wheels as well as sensors that monitor steering angle, yaw rate and lateral acceleration. A control unit processes the information and an electric motor allows the anti-lock braking system to operate even if a driver is not touching the pedal. The sensors calculate data at least 25 times per second, and newer systems do it more frequently, said Kay Stepper of Bosch, an automotive supplier.
Algorithms and software allow the control unit to know if a vehicle is about to move in a direction different from that indicated by the steering wheel. Typically in play on slippery roads or in severe turns where traction is lost, ESC activates when a vehicle turns less than a driver wants (understeer) or turns more (oversteer). Brief braking on the appropriate wheel will correct the situation. Some car manufacturers also reduce engine power in such situations. The result is that the vehicle returns to its intended path, thus avoiding an accident or rollover.
ESC requires no driver intervention, and its computerized technology reacts and adapts to a situation much faster than a human driver could.
Sources: Insurance Institute for Road Safety; Bosch

By any
Other name

Some experts in the auto industry say that the operation of electronic stability control is a little difficult for people who are not technically minded to understand. The wide variety of names used in the industry doesn’t help either. South Korean Kia, for example, is one of the few automakers to call the system electronic stability control. “It’s hard for a person who just bought a new car to know if it has ESC because you might call it something else,” said David Zuby of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Here is a sample of names:
Chevrolet, Cadillac and other General Motors brands:
Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
Ford and Lincoln: AdvanceTrac
and smart:
Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Honda and Acura: Vehicle Stability Assistance (VSA)

Source: Insurance Institute for Road Safety

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Deana N. Guinn

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