An Electronic Lifesaver

Early reports from Europe suggested it, and now tests here in America confirm it -- Electronic Stability Control (ESC) saves lives. A newly published research study by the University of Iowa has concluded that drivers of vehicles equipped with ESC technology increase their ability to maintain control of their vehicles in life threatening situations by 34%. The research study delivered what many called groundbreaking evidence supporting the effectiveness of computer-operated electronic stability control.

The study was commissioned by Robert Bosch Corporation in conjunction with the Electronic Stability Control Coalition and the University of Iowa, and it was implemented by employing the National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS), which is owned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). During the study, researchers at the University of Iowa were able to study drivers during true-to-life critical driving scenarios that would normally lead to a loss of control.

"This research, the first hi-fidelity simulator-based analysis of driver response to vehicles with and without Electronic Stability Control, significantly changes the automotive safety landscape," said University of Iowa researcher Yiannis E. Papelis, Ph.D., one of the leading researchers on the study. "Using the National Advanced Driving Simulator allowed us to observe human behavior and measure drivers' reactions in conditions that would be too dangerous to conduct in real life. Compellingly, the results found ESC can reduce the risk of losing control by as much as 88 percent, which equates to an increase of 34 percent in the number of drivers who maintained control of their vehicles with the ESC system activated."

Previous international observational studies from Mercedes-Benz and Toyota have shown that ESC could help prevent up to 50 percent of single-vehicle crashes. The University of Iowa's study compared driver performance during three selected loss-of-control scenarios -- lane departure, curve departure and wind gust -- between two vehicles equipped with an ESC system and the same vehicles with the system off. Researchers chose the scenarios from the well-known industry accident classifications in the crash avoidance document "44 Crashes." The results show that vehicles equipped with ESC systems provide a significant safety benefit.

"ESC is a proven active safety technology that can help a driver maintain control of the vehicle and significantly reduces the danger of skidding and rollover accidents," said Wolfgang Drees, member of the board of management, Robert Bosch GmbH. "The results of this study reflect similar data from international observational studies that ESC does in fact help to save lives."

First manufactured by Bosch in 1995, ESC [or electronic stability program (ESP) as it is called by Bosch] is another instance of the use of computers in increasing auto safety, building upon the success of antilock brakes. Bosch, one of several makers of the technology, has produced more that 10 million ESP systems worldwide and estimates approximately six percent of U.S. vehicles are equipped with ESP today. In Europe, where the systems have received greater publicity and fitments by car manufacturers, the percentage of new vehicles with the technology is much greater.

A member of the Electronic Stability Control Coalition advisory board, Driving Today Managing Editor Jack R. Nerad writes frequently about safety issues.