Video: Gov't. to require stability control for automobiles

By Tom Costello Correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/13/2006 7:23:34 PM ET 2006-09-13T23:23:34

Ford announced Wednesday that it will include electronic stability control systems in every new vehicle by the end of 2009. The announcement comes one day before the federal government is expected to require every automaker to do the same by 2012. Experts say when stability control systems are used, they can mean the difference between life and death.

They are the kinds of accidents that all too often involve young men: Single vehicle rollovers. It happened to David Hayek. He broke a leg, lost four teeth and ripped a rotator cuff.

"I just simply lost control of the vehicle and there were no facilities inside the vehicle to stop you, to help you regain control," says Hayek.

Hayek's accident was the the kind that electronic stability control — or ESC — might have prevented. ESC is a sort of "silent co-pilot" that intervenes beforea driver loses control.

If every vehicle had ESC, experts believe it could save 10,000 lives a year.

"What it does, it senses if a car is about to slide out of control and then applies a break to one or more wheels, which brings the car back into line and leaves the driver in complete control," says David Champion, who directs vehicle testing for Consumer Reports.

For a first-hand look at what stability control can do, Champion took us to the Consumer Reports test track in Connecticut.

At 50 miles per hour, the driver is forced to swerve to avoid an object — then swerves back into his lane. The stability control keeps us under control.

The same maneuver without stability control results in an out-of-control skid.

Today, only 30 percent of all vehicles on the road have it. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safeway estimates single vehicle accidents could be cut by 40 percent if every car came equipped with ESC. Now, the government is poised to require it in every new car within six years.

"This is the next best safety feature to come along since seat belts," says Champion.

And it could cut by a third the death toll on America's roads.

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