A driver demonstrates ESC in a Mini Cooper at a ChooseESC! event in Rome.
A driver demonstrates ESC in a Mini Cooper at a ChooseESC! event in Rome. Click image to enlarge

By Paul Williams

Ottawa, Ontario – After learning of another fatal crash in my area — this one involving a small pickup truck and its four occupants, three of whom died — I knew that the vehicle subject vehicle, a Ford Ranger, wasn’t equipped with Electronic Stability Control (ESC). I know this because ESC is not standard equipment on the Ranger, nor is it offered as an option.

Would ESC have helped? Results from surveys and research all over the world are confirming that ESC has a significant impact on the outcome of crashes involving loss of control (which account for nearly half the road crashes in Canada). According to Transport Canada, “Preliminary analyses of data for calendar years 2000 to 2005 indicate that ESC could have prevented approximately 30 per cent of fatal and injury crashes that involved loss of control, if all vehicles in Canada had been equipped with ESC.” That would amount to a reduction of nearly 1,000 fatalities.

Research from the U.S.-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) supports these findings, confirming that, “ESC reduces the risk of all single-vehicle crashes by more than 40 per cent-fatal ones by 56 per cent.” The IIHS estimates that up to 10,000 fatal crashes (in the U.S.) could be avoided each year if all vehicles were equipped with ESC.

In the United Kingdom, the Department of Transport concludes, “That ESC equipped vehicles are involved in 25 per cent fewer fatal road accidents.”
From the Swedish Road Administration, “For serious and fatal loss-of-control type crashes on wet roads the effectiveness was 56.2 ± 23.5 per cent and for roads covered with ice or snow the effectiveness was 49.2 ± 30.2 per cent. It was estimated that for Sweden, with a total of 500 vehicle related deaths annually, that 80-100 fatalities could be saved annually if all cars had ESC.”

So yes, it could have helped.

What is ESC? It goes by a number of names, depending on the manufacturer (DSC for MINI and BMW; AdvanceTrac for Ford; Vehicle Stability Assist for Acura), but basically, as the name suggests, it’s an electronic system that helps to keep your vehicle stable. The principle is that sensors in your vehicle detect lateral movement (skidding, sliding sideways, entering a corner too quickly, changing lanes too abruptly). These sensors cause the brakes on individual wheels to be selectively applied in an attempt to maintain desired forward motion. Sometimes, in conjunction with braking, the throttle may be modulated as well.

Electronic Stability Control is remarkably effective, and can give the driver a fighting chance of maintaining or regaining control when the vehicle and its occupants are at risk. In many cases, as the research shows, it will enable the driver to avoid a crash.

What ESC is not (although it’s connected to these systems) is anti-lock brakes (ABS) or traction control (TC). Indeed your vehicle may have both those technologies, but still may not be equipped with ESC.

And ESC can’t be added, or “retrofitted.” It’s installed when the car is built; integrated into the vehicle’s electronic and mechanical components.
Surprisingly, given that ESC has been available for over a decade, Transport Canada reports that only five per cent of vehicles on the road are equipped with ESC, and 60 per cent of Canadians have never even heard of it.

True, new technologies do take time to be accepted, and initially the cost of ESC was high. But even with costs falling significantly (Volkswagen offers it in their Golf for only $450), consumers may not understand the true value of ESC. And as long as ESC is not available on many vehicles, or is only available as an extra cost item (if you can find an example so equipped), consumers will lack the opportunity to benefit from this excellent technology.

That being said, the IIHS reports that ESC is currently standard equipment on 40 per cent of new vehicles in the U.S., and is available at extra cost on another 15 per cent. Furthermore, according to Canadian safety advocate, Glen Nicholson, “The US [has] fast-tracked a regulation making ESC mandatory in all cars and light trucks starting with 55% of 2009 models, 75% of 2010 models, 95% of 2011 models, and 100% of 2012 models.”

In Canada, Transport Canada is currently, “Examining the need to require ESC on all new light vehicles sold in Canada.” It will propose that ESC will be mandatory equipment on vehicles manufactured on or after September 1, 2011. That would include pickup trucks.

Currently however, the availability of ESC on Canadian new vehicles is not necessarily the same as in U.S vehicles – Canadian models are often equipped differently.
Many experts suggest ESC should be standard equipment on all vehicles sold, and Autos supports this view. You can help too by only purchasing vehicles with ESC. Its availability in your next vehicle should be a deal-breaker. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Although the operation of ESC is similar from one vehicle to the next, each manufacturer, perhaps confusingly, has a different name for it. Only the Korean manufacturers Hyundai and Kia actually refer to Electronic Stability Control as “ESC.” And some have traction control systems with similar names — BMW’s Active Stability Control, or ASC, for instance — which are not the same as ESC. What you want is listed below (courtesy of Transport Canada), alphabetically by manufacturer.

Manufacturer Name for ESC
Acura Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA)
Audi Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP)
BMW Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
Buick StabiliTrak
Cadillac StabiliTrak
Chevrolet Corvette: Active Handling System; all others: StabiliTrak
Chrysler Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Dodge Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Ford AdvanceTrac
GMC StabilitTrak
Honda Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA)
Hummer StabiliTrak
Hyundai Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
Infiniti Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC)
Jaguar Dynamic Stability Control (TracDSC)
Jeep Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Kia Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
Land Rover Dynamic Stability Control
Lexus Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) or Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM)
Lincoln AdvanceTrac
Mazda Dynamic Stability Control
Mercedes-Benz Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Mini Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Active Skid and Traction Control System (M-ASTC)
Nissan Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC)
Pontiac StabiliTrak
Porsche Porsche Stability Management (PSM)
Saab StabiliTrak
Saturn StabiliTrak
Smart Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Subaru Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC)
Suzuki Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Toyota Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) or Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM)
Volkswagen Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Volvo Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DTSC)

Related articles on Autos
  • “Electronic Stability Control: why your car should have it,” by Glen Nicholson
  • “Auto Tech: Vehicle Stability Control Systems,” by Jim Kerr
    Related links
  • CAA’s ESC microsite
  • Transport Canada ESC website
  • Connect with Autos.ca