Safe to sell? Why stability control is vital on the cars of today
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When you’re in the market for a vehicle, safety should always be at the top of your list.
One of the latest features just mandated across all vehicles imported into New Zealand is Electronic Stability Control (ESC). It’s known by many different names and acronyms (ESP and VDC are common) and the AA considers it a very important safety feature alongside seatbelts, airbags and Antilock Braking System (ABS).
What is ESC and how does it work?
ESC is a low-cost technology that reduces the risk of a driver being injured in a crash (as a result of losing control of a vehicle) by around 30 per cent.
It works in conjunction with a vehicle’s ABS, Traction Control (TC) and Electronic Power Steering (EPS). Sensors detect if the path of the vehicle differs from where the steering says the vehicle should be heading (understeer/oversteer).
If that occurs, the ESC will intervene in a number of ways. Typically, the vehicle will reduce power — that is where traction control comes in — if the driver is applying throttle. This helps prevent the situation getting worse.
In addition to this, the ESC system can do something no driver can — it can brake individual wheels with varying degrees of pressure and duration. By doing so, the system can help the vehicle correct its path, and prevent it from leaving the road, straying across to other lanes or even rolling over.
Once optional, now mandatory since 2008, ESC has been a requirement in order to achieve a five-star ANCAP safety crash test rating. Since 2015, as part of the plan to increase the safety of the vehicle fleet in NZ and the Ministry of Transport Safer Journeys goal action plan, the regulations have been gradually tightening on vehicle classes that require ESC in order to be allowed into NZ.
As of March 1, 2020, it is now mandatory that all vehicle classes (new and used) coming into NZ have ESC.
The NZTA has indicated that the increase in vehicles with ESC as a result of mandating this safety technology is expected to prevent 432 deaths and 1992 serious injuries, including 22 deaths and 102 serious injuries over the next two decades.
We’re not the only country to do this; Australia and the EU started mandating stability control in all new passenger cars from November 2011, and Japan from October the following year.
Has my car got it? How do I find a car with it?
Although it has been around in a few cars since the late 1990s, ESC really started to find its way into popular NZ-new Japanese manufactured vehicles from 2009 and even earlier for some European models.
Some vehicles started out with this system reserved only for the top-spec models. With Japanese domestic imported vehicles this might be hard information to find, and so each car will need to be checked: it’s often identified by a small dashboard light of a skidding vehicle silhouette.
There may also be a button to turn the system off when not required.
The Rightcar used car safety ratings (UCSR) lists vehicles with ESC as Safer Picks because they also protect other road users.