Avoiding a crash is ALWAYS preferable to attempting to “manage” the crash. How a vehicle manages a crash is often referred to as “crashworthiness.” This concept will be addressed in later posts.
The most significant crash avoidance technology relating to vehicle stability is electronic stability control (ESC). This technology reacts faster than the operator of a vehicle. It does so by regulating braking, engine speed, and transmission adjustments. The concept of ESC has existed for decades, primarily in the aviation industry. When a passenger airplane encounters turbulence, avionics of the airplane stabilizes the airplane before a pilot can react. Historically without such a system, the pilot would attempt to correct the stability of the airplane. Many times the pilot would overreact, which would cause further instability to the airplane. This is commonly referred to as “pilot induced error.” The same occurs with drivers attempting to regain control of a vehicle that is starting to slide or rotate in an emergency steer maneuver. The driver is undertaking all reasonable actions as a driver perceives. However, the driver’s perception reaction can actually further the instability of the vehicle.
ESC identifies and reacts faster than a driver. Similar to the airplane turbulence scenario, the vehicle will stabilize itself to prevent a crash.
ESC has existed in vehicles since the late 1990s. However, it was not until March 2007 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) required vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less be equipped with an ESC system. NHTSA estimated that as many as 2,534 lives would be saved annually once all passenger vehicles had ESC systems. In 2004 NHTSA concluded that ESC was approximately 30% effective in preventing fatal single vehicle crashes for passenger cars and 63% for sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
NHTSA allowed a “phase-in” for vehicle manufacturers to incorporate ESC from 2009 to 2011 model years. Beginning in 2012 all light vehicles were required to have ESC. Therefore, if searching for a used vehicle, only consider model years 2012 to the present as ESC is mandatory in selecting a safe vehicle.