Federal Government to Require Electronic Stability Control Technology for Vehicles

STATING their move could save thousands of lives each year on U.S. roadways, the nation's top transportation official unveiled plans to make new crash prevention technology standard equipment on every new passenger vehicle sold in America by 2012.

On April 5, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters and National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator (NHTSA) Nicole R. Nason announced the final rule to require the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) on all new passenger vehicles. ESC uses automatic computer controlled braking to keep drivers from losing control on slippery roads or in emergency maneuvers, in many cases preventing deadly rollovers from occurring.

"This technology will save thousands of lives. Like airbags and seat belts, ten years down the road we will look back at the new ESC technology and wonder how we ever drove a car without it." Peters said.

"ESC technology will put the brakes on crashes and help drivers keep control of their cars in critical situations," Nason said. "ESC works, it will save lives, and it can give American drivers and passengers the peace of mind that comes from knowing their vehicles have some of the most technologically advanced safety equipment available."

The final rule will require all manufacturers to begin equipping passenger vehicles with ESC starting with model year 2009, and to have the feature available as standard equipment on all new passenger vehicles by the 2012 model year (September 2011).

The agency estimates ESC will save between 5,300 and 9,600 lives annually and prevent between 168,000 and 238,000 injuries. According to NHTSA, adding ESC to vehicles that do not have it will cost the industry $985 million. The system will cost automakers $111 per vehicle with antilock braking systems. Manufacturers may include an ESC on/off switch for all-terrain drivers, because sometimes off-roaders may want to turn it off.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Mark V. Rosenker welcomed the announcement, stating that widespread use of ESC will reduce loss-of-control and rollover crashes and lead to a substantial reduction of deaths and injuries on the nation's highways. "It is an excellent example of using advances in technology to bring down the unacceptable toll of vehicle accidents," Rosenker said.

The NTSB first addressed ESC following an investigation of a 2002 accident on Interstate 95/495, near Largo, Md., in which a Ford Explorer veered across the median into on-coming traffic and was involved in a crash with another SUV and a minivan. The accident resulted in five fatalities. NTSB recommended that NHTSA initiate a phased-in stability control mandate for passenger vehicles, if an evaluation of ESC effectiveness was favorable.

Joan Claybrook, president, Public Citizen, said that the rule requires systems that are less advanced than what automakers are already installing in vehicles. "NHTSA has the authority to issue technology-forcing standards, but in this case, it is undercutting the likelihood that manufacturers will continue selling the superior technology now being offered to consumers," Claybrook stated.

A copy of the final regulation and the accompanying regulatory analysis can be found at http://www.safercar.gov/esc/Rule.pdf.

More information on the ESC technology can be found at http://nhtsa.gov/portal/site/nhtsa/menuitem.012c081c5966f0ca3253ab10cba046a0.

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