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Directions in Highway Safety, Spring 2007 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Spring 2007 | Vol. 10 | No. 1

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New Crash Prevention Technology Expected to Save Thousands of Lives

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Beginning in 2012, the U.S. Department of Transportation will require all new passenger vehicles sold in America to be equipped with Electronic Stability Control (ESC), a new crash prevention technology that helps prevent rollovers by keeping vehicles under control. ESC uses a series of sensors to correct when a vehicle is about to go out of control, automatically applying computer-controlled braking to individual wheels.

The new requirement was announced April 5 in a final rule published in the Federal Register. It applies to all vehicles under 10,000 pounds and requires all manufacturers to begin equipping passenger vehicles with ESC in model year 2009 and to make the feature standard on all new 2012 models.

The rule states that vehicles will need to pass a test at 50 miles per hour and must include a dashboard indicator light to warn drivers if the ESC system is not working. Manufacturers may elect to equip all-terrain vehicles with an ESC on/off switch.

American automakers are already including the anti-rollover technology as a standard feature on many vehicles. In fact, for the 2007 model year, 40 percent of vehicles and 90 percent of SUVs came equipped with ESC. It is currently more likely to be found in luxury models.

In terms of injury and fatality reduction, NHTSA estimates universal ESC will save between 5,300 and 9,600 lives annually. Between 168,000 and 238,000 fewer injuries are expected to occur.

The National Transportation Safety Board praised the NHTSA announcement. Chairman Mark Rosenker stated, "This is an extremely positive move. Widespread use of ESC will reduce loss-of-control and rollover crashes and lead to a substantial reduction of deaths and injuries on our highways. It is an excellent example of using advances in technology to bring down the unacceptable toll of vehicle accidents."

The new ruling was not met with universal praise from safety advocates. Gerald Donaldson, senior research director for the safety interest group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told Reuters that the regulation likely will be too accommodating to carmakers and allow those that have not yet installed stability control to opt for cheaper, less advanced options. "I'd be very surprised if they do anything more," Donaldson said of the government rule. Donaldson also said NHTSA should consider automatic braking and additional steering features or technology to reduce engine power that some automakers are now using.

The cost to install ESC is estimated at $111 per vehicle, provided the model already has an antilock braking system. However, NHTSA estimates the benefits will far outweigh the costs, preventing approximately $450 million in property damage, not including medical expenses. For a copy of the final regulation, visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2007/pdf/07-1649.pdf.