You have taught your teen to drive safely, discussed why alcohol and driving don’t go together and worked out a compromise about not texting or talking on the phone while driving. And yet, when it’s time to hand over your car keys, you wonder if there is anything you missed. There’s one more thing you can do, say driving experts such as David Champion, Senior Director of Consumer Reports Auto Test Division – make sure your kid is driving an ESC-equipped car. If your teen ever gets into a situation where he loses control of the car, this could mean the difference between life and death.
What is ESC?
Called Stability Management, StabiliTrak, Vehicle Skid Control or Dynamic Stability Control, Electronic Stability Control or ESC is the generic term for a control system on a car that is made up of several sensors that feed signals into a microcomputer. This helps by constantly monitoring the direction of the vehicle through measured steering wheel angles and the actual direction the car is moving in. The actual direction of the car is measured through the vehicle’s rotation (or yaw), each wheel speed, and the lateral acceleration of the car. If the vehicle is moving in a direction that is different than the direction provided by the steering wheel, it assumes a loss of steering control, and quickly reacts accordingly to put the vehicle back on its intended path/path measured by the steering wheel angle. The system in the process also reduces the engine power to slow down the vehicle or bring it to a full stop.
How does ESC Work?
When a driver veers suddenly to change direction or takes a turn on a slippery surface, two situations may arise: oversteer and understeer. During an oversteer, the car’s rear moves towards the outer side of the turn. In an understeer, the car’s front moves towards the outer side of the turn in a direction that’s away from the curve of the turn. What ESC does is to apply brake pressure on the outside front wheel in case of an oversteer and on the inside rear wheel in case of an understeer, to bring the car back onto its intended path. Therefore, ESC systems help the driver gain control of the vehicle – sometimes even before he realizes he had lost control – and prevent skidding and rollover.
How effective is ESC?
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, research by Charles M. Farmer on car crashes between 2000 and 2010 indicates that ESC reduced the risk of fatal crashes by 33 per cent. This is a significant reduction of 49 percent for single-car crashes and 20 percent for crashes involving multiple vehicles. The ultimate proof of its efficiency – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now requires all vehicles manufactured for sale in the USA to be fitted with ESC starting September 1, 2011.
When is ESC Beneficial?
ESC helps control lateral instability and therefore has an advantage over conventional safety mechanisms such as ABS and Traction Control, which only act in the longitudinal direction. ESC systems are most useful in conditions when a driver loses his ability to control the vehicle’s movement either because he is driving at high speed or because the road is slippery due to rain, ice or snow. What this implies is that ESC is a life-saving mechanism not just for teens but for all drivers who need to maneuver tricky driving conditions.
A word of caution, though – ESC may prevent a crash from turning fatal, but it cannot compensate for rash or unskilled driving. For those who drive carefully under favorable road conditions, ESC may imply nothing more than saving money because insurance companies provide a discount on cars fitted with this technology. However, considering the unpredictable nature of human existence, you need to view ESC systems the way you do insurance – hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.