Helping to prevent crashes
Recent developments in vehicle safety have concentrated mainly on improving crashworthiness and reducing injury. Examples of this are better energy absorbing structures; airbags; improved seat-belt systems and so on.
Car makers continue to improve in these areas, though the focus is now shifting more toward crash avoidance systems. These have made possible by the sophistication and reliability of electronic control systems and sensors.
The first and most widely installed crash avoidance system was antilock brakes (ABS) – under emergency braking, the electronics intervene to ensure that maximum braking effort and full steering control can be maintained without skidding.
ABS needs to sense when an individual wheel is about to lock-up and then adjust the braking effort applied to that wheel, and it is this basic capability that underpins and enables systems such as Electronic Stability Control.
What does ESC do?
In a nutshell, sensors are able to detect the onset of a slide. When a car starts to deviate from its intended course the system automatically applies small amounts of braking to individual wheels as necessary to regain stability and prevent the slide.
This is a huge benefit because so many accidents result from a loss of control in a bend caused by speeding or a need to swerve. A slide or spin is very difficult for most drivers to recover from.
Most car manufacturers now have stability control systems available. Studies all show a significant reduction in the risk of an accident for cars fitted with Electronic Stability Control (ESC).
ESC is not a substitute for careful driving however and won't prevent all accidents particularly where excessive speed is involved. They still rely on the car's basic braking system and tyres so it's essential that these are in good condition.