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Stability System to Prevent Rollovers Brings Good News and Bad to Consumers

06/11/2007
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The recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandate for what is called “electronic stability control” in all vehicles sounds like great news. The Transportation Department says it could save between 5,000 and 10,000 lives and prevent nearly a quarter of a million injuries a year.

In plain language, electronic stability control (ESC) is a technology that can sense when a driver is about to lose control, and automatically applies the brakes to help stabilize the car and prevent a rollover.

The cost to consumers would be a little more than $100 on cars that already have anti-lock brakes, or nearly $500 a vehicle for the entire system – a small price to pay for saving lives and preventing the devastating injuries that are caused by rollovers and roof crushes. All new automobiles will be required to have this technology by the year 2012.

n a strange twist, however, the new mandate requires less sophisticated systems than those already in use today. Nearly 40% of 2007 model vehicles already have this technology, including 90% of SUVs. Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen (www.citizen.org) and a former NHTSA administrator, says the new rule actually reduces the likelihood that auto manufacturers will continue to install the superior technology now on the road.

Of course, even with ESC technology, deaths and serious injuries continue to be incurred in rollover accidents – especially with SUVs. One worry: if drivers believe they are immune to rollover because they have an ESC system, they may pay less attention to defensive driving practices. It’s the proverbial battle of technology versus human error – and we know who usually wins.

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