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Electronic Stability Control

ESC can prevent accidents

These days the emphasis in vehicle safety development is on electronic systems that can help prevent an accident happening rather than on measures to reduce the severity of injuries when one does occur. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) was one of the first, and most effective, and will have to be fitted as standard on all new cars from 2014.

Anti-lock braking systems have been around for a couple of decades or more, and help maintain maximum braking effort and full steering control in an emergency, without skidding. ESC builds on the capability of anti-lock brakes, and makes use of some of the same sensors and braking components.

What does ESC do?

A lot of accidents are the result of a loss of control in a bend taken too fast or a need to take rapid evasive action. A slide or spin is very difficult for most drivers to recover from.

With ESC, if wheel sensors detect the beginning of a slide – the car's actual course starts to deviate from the intended course – small amounts of braking can be applied automatically to individual wheels to regain stability and prevent the slide.

Studies show that there is a significant reduction in the risk of an accident for cars fitted with ESC.

ESC is not a substitute for careful driving and won't be able to prevent all accidents, particularly when speeds are excessive or conditions extreme. It still relies on the car's basic braking system and tyres, which must be in good condition for best performance.

Research results

A Department for Transport study (March 2007) concluded that vehicles equipped with ESC are 25% less likely to be involved in a fatal accident than those without. If every vehicle on the road were fitted with ESC, this would equate to approximately 380 fewer fatal accidents each year.

ESC was found to be especially effective in helping to prevent crashes that involved a vehicle skidding or overturning, with the potential to reduce serious accidents like this by up to 59%. ESC offers additional benefits in adverse road conditions such as wet or snowy weather.

'Choose ESC' is a Europe-wide campaign launched by 'eSafetyAware!'. Supported by the European Commission, Euro NCAP and others, the campaign promotes information to encourage car buyers to 'Choose ESC' next time they buy a new car.


Buying a new car

Some car manufacturers offer stability control as standard, others as an optional extra. All have their own names or acronyms, which can make comparing specifications difficult.

All of these mean the same thing:

  • ESP Electronic Stability Programme
  • ESC Electronic Stability Control
  • VDC Vehicle Dynamic Control
  • DSC Dynamic Stability Control
  • VSA Vehicle Stability Assist
  • ASC Active Stability Control
  • DSTC Dynamic Stability and Traction Control

(Page updated 5 December 2011)