Electronic stability controls, which help prevent vehicles from rolling over or skidding out of control on wet or icy roads, should be standard in all passenger cars weighing less than 10,000 lb by September 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced.
"No other safety technology since the seat belt holds as much promise to save as many lives and prevent as many injuries as electronic stability control," said NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason. NHTSA's announcement of the proposed rule came following two years of agency testing on more than 50 vehicles.
NHTSA said the step could save as many as 10,300 lives a year and prevent as many as 252,000 injuries. Seat belts, introduced in 1955, are credited today with saving at least 12,000 lives a year and preventing economic losses of $50 billion for medical care and lost productivity by forestalling injury or making it less severe.
Safety officials have been impressed by the increased safety offered by electronic stability controls, which is already offered on many models of cars on the road. The technology uses computer sensors to automatically activate brakes to make course corrections.
The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute told the Detroit News that electronic stability controls reduces the odds of fatal rollovers by 73% in sport-utility vehicles, and by 40% in passenger cars.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said electronic stability controls reduces the risk of all single-vehicle crashes by more than 40% and of fatal crashes by 56%.
"Lots of drivers have no idea that it just saved their life or prevented a terrible accident," said Bill Kozrya, president and CEO of Continental Automotive Systems, which makes more than 40% of all stability control systems. "It has the potential to save more lives and prevent more property damage than anything in NHTSA's history."
"We will need time to ensure that nothing in this proposed rule would inhibit our members to keep adding this life-saving technology to more and more vehicles," said Gloria Bergquist, vice president at the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers, which represents General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler AG and Toyota Motor Corp., among others. NHTSA said it will seek comments for 60 days.
Today, about a third of all 2006-model passenger cars and more than half of all late-model SUVs sold offer electronic stability controls. Providing the system on every vehicle will cost about $200 per vehicle, or about $3 billion a year for the auto industry.