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Friday, January 28, 2005

Electronic Stability Control saves lives 

As usual, I found some time to read Car and Driver at the newsstand this week, and the most interesting article of all was a column by Csaba Csere, one of their several smart, engineer-background editors. Kudos to them, by the way, for making the content available online.

He was on about the genuinely shocking news that electronic stability controls (ESC) in cars make a big difference in the rate of accident involvement of those cars. To sum up the most significant finding, cars that are equipped with ESC had about half the rate of "involvement" in fatal single-vehicle accidents, versus previous versions of those cars without ESC (read the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report; I've elided some minor details). Since single-vehicle accidents are about half of all fatal accidents, this means, in theory, that universal ESC adoption could prevent about a quarter of all annual fatal crashes.

That's a big difference. And Csere has some interesting ideas about why this is so, especially since (maybe even more shockingly) anti-lock brakes don't seem to have any effect on accident or fatality rates. The column is a must-read.

Csere quotes studies from the IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (an actual US government body). I haven't found the latter document yet, but they do have this page on their general ESC research, complete with pictures of a heavily-instrumented Corvette on a wet course.

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