esc electronic stability control

safety to the letter

esc  electronic stability control

You may never have heard of ESC but it could save your life and now it is to be compulsory in all cars. Steve Walker reports.

If you could see what ESC does, you'd want it on your car. At its base level, the issue isn't any more complicated than that. What tends to put the fly in the ointment are the twin facts that you probably haven't seen what ESC does and you may also have no idea what it actually is. The plan was for all that to change however, and through the European Commission and Euro NCAP, along with support from such motoring stars as Michael Schumacher, it has now become mandatory on all new vehicles in the European Union.

ESC stands for Electronic Stability Control and it's an active safety system that's fitted to cars. Active safety systems are devices that work to prevent a car accident happening - as opposed to passive safety systems like seatbelts and airbags that work to minimise personal injury when an accident does occur.

ECS reduces the risk of skidding and helps drivers retain control of their vehicles. It's thought that ESC reduces the risk of skidding by up to 80% and with skidding established as the cause of at least 40% of all fatal road accidents in EU countries, its widespread use can have a major impact.

Department of Transport research has shown that a vehicle equipped with ESC is 25% less likely to be involved in a fatal accident than one without it, which would equate to 380 fewer road deaths in the UK every year if all vehicles had ESC. Across an all ESC-equipped European Union, the benefits would be multiplied with 4,000 deaths and 100,000 serious injuries prevented annually. It's a compelling case.

As car safety innovations go, ESC ranks alongside the seatbelt and ABS in terms of importance and lifesaving potential. It works by collating information from a series of on-board sensors, then coordinating a car's ABS brakes and traction control systems to avoid a skid situation. Monitoring the driver's steering inputs in conjunction with the speed of each wheel and the vehicle's yaw rate, the ESC control unit instantly recognises the onset of an understeer or an oversteer skid. It can then automatically apply different levels of braking to different wheels and reduce engine torque as necessary to ensure the car reacts as the driver intends. ESC can't defy the laws of physics but it can retain a level of control for the driver that's proven to save lives.

Different manufacturers coined their own terms for ESC. The most widely recognised would be ESP, the term employed by the system's originators Bosch and Daimler Chrysler, but you'll also find variations of the same technology referred to as DSC, VSA, VSC and numerous other confusing three letter combos. You might think that the last thing the market needed was yet another acronym but the manufacturers are fairly protective of theirs.

There is a happy ending to this story though. In March 2009, the European Parliament agreed to make ESP(r) mandatory for all new vehicles. According to the regulation, from November 2011 all new passenger-car and commercial-vehicle models registered in the European Union had to be equipped with the ESP(r) active safety system. From November 2014 this will then apply to all new vehicles.