What is electronic stability control?

Electronic stability control

Electronic stability control (ESC) is a safety feature which prevents drivers from losing control of the vehicle.

Under European safety regulation cars launched since 2011 are fitted with ESC. The system has been compulsory in all new cars since 2014.

ESC is a a safety system that stops skidding and prevents crashes. It’s fitted to cars, buses, coaches and trucks. How does it work, and what are its benefits?

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Is electronic stability control necessary?

Data and statistics support the benefits of having ESC in vehicles and preventing crashes.

The active safety technology like ESC according to Road Safety Fact.eu “can prevent accidents from happening altogether or at least actively help the driver to reduce the impact of an emergency situation.”

One Loughborough University study cited regularly indicates there was a 25% reduction in risk of becoming involved in an accident.

Another study suggests that ESC is more effective at reducing some types of multiple vehicle crashes.


Electronic stability control is part of integrated safety

An early form of ESC was first introduced by Toyota with their “anti-skid control” system.

It wasn’t until the late 80s and early 90s that ESC became standardised, and more manufacturers started fitting it in their cars.

BMW, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Bosch were all pioneers collaborating on the system.

ESC is part of an integrated safety concept.

Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are also part of this, so are monitoring technologies that help to prevent accidents by reducing skid risk or loss of control.

The system becomes active and assists the driver when it detects impending danger, such as:

  • Oversteering or understeering when cornering.

  • Sudden evasive manoeuvres.

  • Sudden change in road condition – e.g. icy and slippery roads.

  • Reduced road traction due to driving on dirt, in the rain or on gravel patches.

Basically, the ESC is a complex system that is regularly monitoring through sensors. It detects various measures like speed, wheel rotation and brake pressure.

READ MORE: Self-driving cars could be on our roads this year


How does electronic stability control work?

ESC is not a single system, but rather a combination of a car’s traction control system and ABS. It does its job by using a number of intelligent sensors:

  • Steering wheel angle sensor – detects driver’s intended direction.

  • Yaw rate sensor – detects how much a car is turning.

  • Individual wheel speed sensor – tracks wheels’ speed.

  • Lateral acceleration sensor - measures the centrifugal force (when cornering for example).

All these sensors provide ESC with enough data to take an appropriate action to restore driver’s control.

It does that by applying the brake on the relevant wheels and, if it needs to, reduces the engine’s power.

ESC works instantly and sometimes it can even go undetected by the driver.

Also, if the driver takes action while it’s active, the system will adjust itself to driver’s natural reaction. But the driver remains in control of the vehicle.


What are the benefits of electronic stability control?

A lot of research has been done to determine the effectiveness of the stability control system.

According to the European Road Safety Observatory (ERSO) cars with ESC are:

  • 22% less likely to be involved in a crash.

  • Up to 38% less likely to be involved in an accident due to wet or snowy roads.

  • 59% less likely to roll over – and that’s over 67% for sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

  • 33% less likely to skid.

Due to its high effectiveness and benefit to drivers, the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) added ESC to their safety tests in 2009.

This means cars which aren’t fitted with ESC cannot be eligible for the highest 5-star safety rating.


Which cars have ESC?

Most cars are fitted with ESC as standard, but others have it as an optional extra.

If you’re looking to buy a car and you want to know which cars have stability control, it’s worth double checking with the vendor. Or you can check the manufacturer’s website.

Although it’s widely known as electronic stability control, many car manufacturers come up with their own names for the system:

  • Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) – BMW, Mazda, Jaguar

  • Electronic Stability Program (ESP) – Audi, Kia, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz

  • Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) – Toyota

  • Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) – Volvo

  • Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) – Nissan

  • Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) – Honda

  • Active Stability Control (ASC) – Mitsubishi

Unfortunately, you can't have ESC fitted if your car doesn't have it as the system is installed and tailored to each model’s characteristics.


What is the difference between ESC and ESP?

There isn’t any difference between electronic stability programme (ESP) and ESC except in name. They both offer the same safety features.


Is it safe to drive with ESC off?

You shouldn’t turn off the ESC, especially on public roads. It’s considered dangerous to do so.


What do I do if the electronic stability control fails?

It’s a complex system using many different sensors to work effectively. That’s why quite a few things can go wrong.

Sometimes the ESC or ESP light may flash when driving on slippery surfaces, an indication that it’s working.

If the stability control light comes on for no reason, it could be one of any number of components. It’s best to get it checked out immediately by a qualified mechanic.

You could still carry on driving but the stability system may not be active. This means you’ll have to take extra care when driving on slippery roads, and cornering at high speed.