Electronic Stability Control

Electronic Stability Control Ratings

What Is It?

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems help you maintain or regain control of your vehicle in difficult driving situations, such as during unexpected turns or while negotiating icy roads.

ESC continuously monitors tire movement and steering wheel activity to sense a loss of traction or slippage. In such situations, ESC systems can reduce engine power, apply brakes independently to each wheel, and correct tire suspension much faster than the driver could. These systems are particularly helpful in managing unexpected events, or driving on wet or icy roadways. They are also especially helpful to drivers of large vehicles, such as SUVs. The only way to get ESC is to buy a new or used vehicle that has it equipped - it is not available as an after-market add-on.

Why Did ESC Earn a Top (5-Star) Rating for "Loss of Steering Control" Scenarios?

Numerous studies have been conducted of ESC, and its proven benefits are why the Federal government mandates it in all vehicles. Examples of real-world findings include:

Why Did ESC Earn a Top (5-Star) Rating for Overall Safety Benefit?
The type of "loss of control" events that ESC was designed to prevent are extremely common, accounting for up to 40% of fatal car crashes. Overall, studies estimate that approximately 40-56% of fatal collisions could be prevented by the use of ESC.

Why Would I Use This Technology?

In certain situations, such as during a skid, vehicles may not respond to driver inputs the way the driver intends. ESC systems detect such scenarios, and automatically adjust the brake, throttle and tire suspension to compensate. The primary benefit of this technology is that it increases the driver’s ability to control the vehicle and substantially reduces crash risk.

What Do Drivers Think?

About 50% of consumers do not know about ESC or whether it is implemented in their vehicle. Those who are familiar with ESC generally have a high opinion of it. In a survey of drivers who were aware of ESC, 89% said that they felt the technology made them safer.

How Well Does It Work?

ESC systems are highly effective, and could help prevent up to 800,000 single-vehicle crashes per year (48%). Fatal crashes could be reduced 40-56%. An experiment that simulated common loss of control situations found that accidents were greatly reduced in the ESC-enabled situations.

Who Benefits Most?

ESC systems are highly beneficial overall, especially for drivers who own larger vehicles such as SUVs. In addition, drivers who commonly find themselves on icy or wet roadways would also derive the most benefit from these systems.

In What Situations Doesn’t It Work?

ESC systems are designed to detect situations in which the driver may be under- or over-steering (as in a sharp, sudden turn), or in cases where the driver is not adequately controlling the vehicle (as on icy roads). The system would not affect cases such as unintentionally drifting out of the lane. It does not have much effect on rear-end collisions. Anecdotal reports by some drivers suggests that they may drive more aggressively under some conditions due to their confidence in the system’s ability to recover control, which may lower the overall gain that might be obtained otherwise.

Mobility Significance

ESC systems increase driving comfort in adverse driving conditions, reducing driver stress.

Not All Systems Are Alike

ESC is designed to be kept on at all times. Some versions have an “off switch” that can be used in situations where ESC might control the vehicle too often (as when stuck in snow or mud). The type of switch and how long it stays off will vary between car manufacturers.

Different Names, Same Idea

Electronic Stability Control systems can be found under a number of different names, including:

•    Vehicle Stability Assist
•    Vehicle Dynamic Control
•    Electronic Stability Program
•    Dynamic Stability Control
•    StabiliTrak
•    AdvanceTrac


How Can I Learn More?
Full references to all studies quoted above can be found in the official AAA Foundation report, "Evaluating Technologies Relevant to the Enhancement of Driver Safety." The project's Fact Sheet provides more detail on the rating system itself, and the criteria used to assign solid and open stars, both for Overall and Scenario Specific ratings.