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Electronic Stability Control - Part 2

It's now a must-have in new cars

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Second of three-part series
  • Why you need it
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In the first part of this series (see Electronic Stability Control - Part 1) we looked at the background of stability control systems and how they can save you in challenging driving conditions. In this instalment, we look at why you need it and why all manufacturers are being pressured to adopt it.

The Push

Motoring bodies are lobbying to fast-track the availability of stability control on all new cars. Some organisations are going a step further by pushing for mandatory adoption of the technology.

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Car safety organisation Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) has called on buyers to make sure their next car is equipped with a stability control system. The Victorian State Coroner and Monash University Accident Research Centre have recommended its standard fitment in all new cars. The publicity surrounding some recent major road accidents has also strengthened the move.

Independent studies by the American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety confirm that stability control can reduce the number of fatal traffic accidents by more than a third. In addition, the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) claims that single-vehicle crashes could be reduced by up to 40 percent if all vehicles in Victoria were fitted with stability control. This could save 50 lives a year.

At a recent motoring conference, a spokesman for Euro NCAP targeted Toyota and Ford Australia for not offering stability control on the newly released Yaris and Focus despite its standard fitment in other counties. In the Australian market, stability control is offered in less than 20 percent of new cars – local manufacturers have been relatively slow to adopt the new technology, though it is now becoming increasingly available.

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In the Holden range, stability control (aka Electronic Stability Program) is standard in the VZ series Acclaim, Adventra, Calais, V6 Statesman/Caprice, the TS Astra convertible and Vectra CDXi. It is not available – even as an option – in the volume selling entry-level Commodore.

However, this lack of universal availability hasn't stopped Holden trumpeted stability control's virtues. Says the company: “Electronic Stability Program (ESP), widely regarded as one of the most significant automotive safety systems ever to come on the market, is offered for the first time on an Australian-manufactured sedan. ESP greatly improves vehicle safety performance in situations where the driver takes emergency action to avoid a collision. It does this by electronically correcting vehicle paths through brake application to individual wheels and engine torque management. The system operates so smoothly that in most situations the driver will not be aware it has been activated.”

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In the Ford range, stability control (aka Dynamic Stability Control) is currently available in the BF series XR6 Turbo and XR8 sedans, Fairmont Ghia, Fairlane and Territory AWD. In the base-model Territory rear-wheel-drive, stability control is an AUD$800 extra cost option. The Territory can lay claim to being the first Australian-built vehicle to receive stability control – the system being calibrated in conjunction with Bosch with testing conducted on the ice-covered lakes of Sweden, the rough gravel roads of the Australian outback and in a variety of real-world driving tests in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain.

"It represents a genuine application of active safety that has the potential to significantly improve road safety," says Stephen Presser, Ford Vehicle Dynamics Manager.

In the large family car segment, Mitsubishi and Toyota are the only local companies not to offer stability control – even as an option.

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European manufacturers are undoubtedly the leaders in adoption of stability control - the entire range of Audi, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche vehicles are fitted with these systems as standard. Interestingly, the cheapest vehicle on the market with stability control is the Smart fortwo which retails for under AUD$20,000.

A full list of vehicles available with stability control can be found at

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The originator of stability control – Mercedes-Benz – has witnessed a significant reduction in driver-related crashes which it links to stability control system.

“If all automobiles were equipped with the stability system, more than 20,000 serious accidents, which claim over 27,000 victims each year, could be prevented in Germany," says Dr. Thomas Weber, head of Development at the Mercedes Car Group.

The company's in-house data also reveals a 42 percent reduction of newly registered Mercedes models involved in driver-related accidents during 2002-2003 compared to the period 1998-1999. Stability control is considered a major contributing factor.

In the third and final part of this series we’ll test the world’s first aftermarket stability control adjuster – on-dash adjustable handling is now available at your fingertips!

Early Scepticism

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In the early days of stability control systems (the late ‘90s/early ‘00s), many driving enthusiasts labelled it a kill-joy – a ‘big brother’ that steps in to take away driver control. Well, not so long ago ABS was held in a similar disregard by a like-minded group of people.

“I can out-brake ABS,” they said... and, “I always pull out the ABS fuse...”

Well, today, those theories have been put to rest and ABS is widely recognised as a must-have for road cars. And it seems that electronic stability control is on the verge of gaining similar recognition. Despite being largely seen as irrelevant a couple of years ago, stability control is now standard equipment on a wide range of imported vehicles and is being adopted by local manufacturers.

It’s ABS all over again!

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