Electronic Stability Control (ESC), also referred to as electronic stability program (ESP) or dynamic stability control (DSC), is a computerized technology that improves the safety of a vehicle's stability by detecting and reducing loss of traction (skidding). When ESC detects loss of steering control, it automatically applies the brakes to help "steer" the vehicle where the driver intends to go. Braking is automatically applied to wheels individually, such as the outer front wheel to counter oversteer or the inner rear wheel to counter understeer. Some ESC systems also reduce engine power until control is regained. ESC does not improve a vehicle's cornering performance; instead, it helps to minimize the loss of control. According to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one-third of fatal accidents could be prevented by the use of the technology.
In 1987, the earliest innovators of ESC, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, introduced their first traction control systems. Traction control works by applying individual wheel braking and throttle to keep traction while accelerating but, unlike the ESC, it is not designed to aid in steering.
BMW, working with Robert Bosch GmbH and Continental Automotive Systems, developed a system to reduce engine torque to prevent loss of control and applied it to the entire BMW model line for 1992. From 1987 to 1992, Mercedes-Benz and Robert Bosch GmbH co-developed a system called Elektronisches Stabilitätsprogramm (Ger. "Electronic Stability Programme" trademarked as ESP) to control lateral slippage.
GM worked with Delphi Corporation and introduced its version of ESC called "StabiliTrak" in 1997 for select Cadillac models. StabiliTrak was made standard equipment on all GM SUVs and vans sold in the U.S. and Canada by 2007 except for certain commercial and fleet vehicles. While the "StabiliTrak" name is used on most General Motors vehicles for the U.S. market, the "Electronic Stability Control" identity is used for GM overseas brands, such as Opel, Holden and Saab, except in the case of Saab's 9-7X which also uses the "StabiliTrak" name. Ford's version of ESC, called AdvanceTrac, was launched in the year 2000. Ford later added Roll Stability Control to AdvanceTrac which was first introduced in Volvo XC90 in 2003 when Volvo Cars was fully owned by Ford and it is now being implemented in many Ford vehicles.
In 1995, automobile manufacturers introduced ESC systems. Mercedes-Benz, supplied by Bosch, was the first to implement this with their W140 S-Class model. That same year BMW, supplied by Bosch and ITT Automotive (later acquired by Continental Automotive Systems). Volvo Cars][ began to offer their version of ESC called DSTC in 1998 on the new S80. Toyota's Vehicle Stability Control system (also in 2004, a preventive system called VDIM) appeared on the Crown Majesta in 1995. Meanwhile others investigated and developed their own systems.
During a moose test (swerving to avoid an obstacle), which became famous in Germany as "the Elk test", the Swedish journalist Robert Collin of Teknikens Värld (World of Technology) in October 1997 rolled a Mercedes A-Class (without ESC) at 78 km/h. Because Mercedes-Benz promotes a reputation for safety, they recalled and retrofitted 130,000 A-Class cars with ESC. This produced a significant reduction in crashes and the number of vehicles with ESC rose. Today, virtually all premium brands have made ESC standard on all vehicles, and the number of models with ESC continues to increase. The availability of ESC in small cars like the A-Class ignited a market trend so that ESC became available for all models at least as an option. As a consequence, the European Union decided in 2009 to make ESC mandatory — all new models must be equipped with ESC since November 01, 2011, and by the end of 2013, all old models without ESC may not be sold anymore. However, some new cars introduced since November 2011 do not have ESC as standard.
Ford and Toyota announced that all their North American vehicles would be equipped with ESC standard by the end of 2009 (it was standard on Toyota SUVs as of 2004, and after the 2011 model-year, All Lexus, Toyota, and Scion vehicles have ESC; the last one to get it was the 2011 model-year Scion tC). However, as recent as November 2010, Ford still sells models in North America without ESC. General Motors had made a similar announcement for the end of 2010. The NHTSA requires all new passenger vehicles to be equipped with ESC by 2012 and estimates it will prevent 5,300–9,600 annual fatalities once all passenger vehicles are equipped with the system.
During normal driving, ESC works in the background and continuously monitors steering and vehicle direction. It compares the driver's intended direction (determined through the measured steering wheel angle) to the vehicle's actual direction (determined through measured lateral acceleration, vehicle rotation (yaw), and individual road wheel speeds).
ESC intervenes only when it detects a probable loss of steering control, i.e. when the vehicle is not going where the driver is steering. This may happen, for example, when skidding during emergency evasive swerves, understeer or oversteer during poorly judged turns on slippery roads, or hydroplaning. ESC may also intervene in an unwanted way during high-performance driving, because steering input may not always be directly indicative of the intended direction of travel (i.e. controlled drifting). ESC estimates the direction of the skid, and then applies the brakes to individual wheels asymmetrically in order to create torque about the vehicle's vertical axis, opposing the skid and bringing the vehicle back in line with the driver's commanded direction. Additionally, the system may reduce engine power or operate the transmission to slow the vehicle down.
ESC can work on any surface, from dry pavement to frozen lakes. It reacts to and corrects skidding much faster and more effectively than the typical human driver, often before the driver is even aware of any imminent loss of control. In fact, this led to some concern that ESC could allow drivers to become overconfident in their vehicle's handling and/or their own driving skills. For this reason, ESC systems typically inform the driver when they intervene, so that the driver knows that the vehicle's handling limits have been approached. Most activate a dashboard indicator light and/or alert tone; some intentionally allow the vehicle's corrected course to deviate very slightly from the driver-commanded direction, even if it is possible to more precisely match it.
Indeed, all ESC manufacturers emphasize that the system is not a performance enhancement nor a replacement for safe driving practices, but rather a safety technology to assist the driver in recovering from dangerous situations. ESC does not increase traction, so it does not enable faster cornering (although it can facilitate better-controlled cornering). More generally, ESC works within inherent limits of the vehicle's handling and available traction between the tires and road. A reckless maneuver can still exceed these limits, resulting in loss of control. For example, in a severe hydroplaning scenario, the wheels that ESC would use to correct a skid may not even initially be in contact with the road, reducing its effectiveness.
In July 2004, on the Crown Majesta, Toyota offered a Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system that incorporated formerly independent systems, including ESC. This worked not only after the skid was detected but also to prevent the skid from occurring in the first place. Using electric variable gear ratio steering power steering, this more advanced system could also alter steering gear ratios and steering torque levels to assist the driver in evasive maneuvers.
Due to the fact that stability control can sometimes be incompatible with high-performance driving (i.e. when the driver intentionally loses traction as in drifting), many vehicles have an over-ride control which allows the system to be partially or fully shut off. In simpler systems, a single button may disable all features, while more complicated setups may have a multi-position switch or may never be truly turned fully off.
Numerous studies around the world confirm that ESC is highly effective in helping the driver maintain control of the car, thereby saving lives and reducing the severity of crashes. In the fall of 2004 in the U.S., the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration confirmed the international studies, releasing results of a field study in the U.S. of ESC effectiveness. The NHTSA in United States concluded that ESC reduces crashes by 35%. Additionally, Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) with stability control are involved in 67% fewer accidents than SUVs without the system. The United States Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) issued its own study in June 2006 showing that up to 10,000 fatal US crashes could be avoided annually if all vehicles were equipped with ESC The IIHS study concluded that ESC reduces the likelihood of all fatal crashes by 43%, fatal single-vehicle crashes by 56%, and fatal single-vehicle rollovers by 77–80%.
ESC is described as the most important advance in auto safety by many experts. including Nicole Nason, Administrator of the NHTSA, Jim Guest and David Champion of Consumers Union of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), E-Safety Aware, Csaba Csere, editor of Car and Driver, and Jim Gill, long time ESC proponent of Continental Automotive Systems The European New Car Assessment Program (EuroNCAP) "strongly recommends" that people buy cars fitted with stability control.
The IIHS requires that a vehicle must have ESC as an available option in order for it to qualify for their Top Safety Pick award for occupant protection and accident avoidance.
ESC incorporates yaw rate control into the anti-lock braking system (ABS). Yaw is a rotation around the vertical axis; i.e. spinning left or right. Anti-lock brakes enable ESC to brake individual wheels. Many ESC systems also incorporate a traction control system (TCS or ASR), which senses drive-wheel slip under acceleration and individually brakes the slipping wheel or wheels and/or reduces excess engine power until control is regained. However, ESC achieves a different purpose than ABS or Traction Control.
The ESC system uses several sensors to determine what the driver wants (input). Other sensors indicate the actual state of the vehicle (response). The control algorithm compares driver input to vehicle response and decides, when necessary, to apply brakes and/or reduce throttle by the amounts calculated through the state space (set of equations used to model the dynamics of the vehicle). The ESC controller can also receive data from and issue commands to other controllers on the vehicle such as an all wheel drive system or an active suspension system to improve vehicle stability and controllability.
The sensors used for ESC have to send data at all times in order to detect possible defects as soon as possible. They have to be resistant to possible forms of interference (rain, holes in the road, etc.). The most important sensors are:
Other sensors can include:
ESC uses a hydraulic modulator to assure that each wheel receives the correct brake force. A similar modulator is used in ABS. ABS needs to reduce pressure during braking, only. ESC additionally needs to increase pressure in certain situations and an active vacuum brake booster unit may be utilized in addition to the hydraulic pump to meet these demanding pressure gradients.
The brain of the ESC system is the electronic control unit (ECU). The various control techniques are embedded in it. Often, the same ECU is used for diverse systems at the same time (ABS, Traction control system, climate control, etc.). The input signals are sent through the input-circuit to the digital controller. The desired vehicle state is determined based upon the steering wheel angle, its gradient and the wheel speed. Simultaneously, the yaw sensor measures the actual state. The controller computes the needed brake or acceleration force for each wheel and directs via the driver circuits the valves of the hydraulic modulator. Via a Controller Area Network interface the ECU is connected with other systems (ABS, etc.) in order to avoid giving contradictory commands.
Many ESC systems have an "off" override switch so the driver can disable ESC, which may be desirable when badly stuck in mud or snow, or driving on a beach, or if using a smaller-sized spare tire which would interfere with the sensors. Some systems also offer an additional mode with raised thresholds so that a driver can utilize the limits of adhesion with less electronic intervention. However, ESC defaults to "On" when the ignition is restarted. Some ESC systems that lack an "off switch", such as on many recent Toyota and Lexus vehicles, can be temporarily disabled through an undocumented series of brake pedal and handbrake operations. Furthermore, unplugging a wheel speed sensor is another method of disabling most ESC systems. The ESC implementation on newer Ford vehicles cannot be completely disabled even through the use of the "off switch". The ESC will automatically reactivate at highway speeds, and below that if it detects a skid with the brake pedal depressed.
ESC is built on top of an anti-lock brake (ABS) system, and all ESC-equipped vehicles are fitted with traction control. The ESC components include a yaw rate sensor, a lateral acceleration sensor, a steering wheel sensor, and an upgraded integrated control unit. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research, ABS in 2005 cost an estimated US$368; ESC cost a further US$111. The retail price of ESC varies; as a stand-alone option it retails for as little as $250 USD. However, ESC is rarely offered as a sole option, and is generally not available for aftermarket installation. Instead, it is frequently bundled it with other features or more expensive trims, so the cost of a package that includes ESC could be several thousand dollars. Nonetheless, ESC is considered highly cost-effective and it might pay for itself in reduced insurance premiums. In the US, Federal regulations will require that ESC be installed as a standard feature on all passenger cars and light trucks beginning in 2012.
Availability of ESC in passenger vehicles varies between manufacturers and countries. In 2007, ESC was available in roughly 50% of new North American models compared to about 75% in Sweden. However, consumer awareness affects buying patterns so that roughly 45% of vehicles sold in North America and the UK are purchased with ESC, contrasting with 78–96% in other European countries such as Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. While few vehicles had ESC prior to 2004, increased awareness will increase the number of vehicles with ESC on the used car market.
ESC is available on cars, SUVs and pickup trucks from all major auto makers. Luxury cars, sports cars, SUVs, and crossovers are usually equipped with ESC. Midsize cars are also gradually catching on, though the 2008 model years of the Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion only offered ESC on their V6 engine-equipped cars; however, some midsize cars, such as the Honda Accord had it as standard equipment by then. While ESC includes traction control, there are vehicles such as the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu LS and 2008 Mazda6 that have traction control but not ESC. ESC is rare among subcompact cars as of 2008. The 2009 Toyota Corolla in the United States (but not Canada) has stability control as a $250 option on all trims below that of the XRS which has it as standard. In Canada, for the 2010 Mazda3, ESC is as an option on the midrange GS trim as part of the moonroof package, and is standard on the top-of-the-line GT version. The 2009 Ford Focus has ESC as an option for the S and SE models, and standard on the SEL and SES models
In the UK, even mass-market superminis such as the Ford Fiesta Mk.6 and VW Polo Mk.5 come with ESC as standard.
ESC is also available on some motor homes. Elaborate ESC and ESP systems (including Roll Stability Control (RSC)) are available for many commercial vehicles, including transport trucks, trailers, and buses from manufacturers such as Bendix Corporation, WABCO Daimler, Scania AB, and Prevost, and light passenger vehicles.
The ChooseESC! campaign, run by the EU's eSafetyAware! project, provides a global perspective on ESC. One ChooseESC! publication shows the availability of ESC in EU member countries.
In the US, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) website shows availability of ESC in individual US models and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA website) lists US models with ESC.
In Australia, the National Roads and Motorists' Association NRMA shows the availability of ESC in Australian models.
The market for ESC is growing quickly, especially in European countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and Germany. For example, in 2003 in Sweden the purchase rate on new cars with ESC was 15%. The Swedish road safety administration issued a strong ESC recommendation and in September 2004, 16 months later, the purchase rate was 58%. A stronger ESC recommendation was then given and in December 2004, the purchase rate on new cars had reached 69% and by 2008 it had grown to 96%. ESC advocates around the world are promoting increased ESC use through legislation and public awareness campaigns and by 2012, most new vehicles should be equipped with ESC.
Just as ESC is founded on the Anti-lock braking system (ABS), ESC is the foundation for new advances such as Roll Stability Control (RSC) that works in the vertical plane much like ESC works in the horizontal plane. When RSC detects impending rollover (usually on transport trucks or SUVs), RSC applies brakes, reduces throttle, induces understeer, and/or slows down the vehicle.
The computing power of ESC facilitates the networking of active and passive safety systems, addressing other causes of crashes. For example, sensors may detect when a vehicle is following too closely and slow down the vehicle, straighten up seat backs, and tighten seat belts, avoiding and/or preparing for a crash.
While Sweden used public awareness campaigns to promote ESC use, others implemented or proposed legislation.
The Canadian province of Quebec was the first jurisdiction to implement an ESC law, making it compulsory for carriers of dangerous goods (without data recorders) in 2005.
The United States was next, requiring ESC for all passenger vehicles under 10,000 pounds (4536 kg), phasing in the regulation starting with 55% of 2009 models (effective 1 September 2008), 75% of 2010 models, 95% of 2011 models, and all 2012 models.
Canada will require all new passenger vehicles to have ESC from 1 September 2011.
The Australian Government announced on 23 June 2009 that ESC would be compulsory from 1 November 2011 for all new passenger vehicles sold in Australia, and for all new vehicles from November 2013.
The European Parliament has also called for the accelerated introduction of ESC. The European Commission has confirmed a proposal for the mandatory introduction of ESC on all new cars and commercial vehicle models sold in the EU from 2012, with all new cars being equipped by 2014.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has passed a Global Technical Regulation to harmonize ESC standards.
Electronic stability control (ESC) is the generic term recognised by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), the North American Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, and other worldwide authorities. However, vehicle manufacturers may use a variety of different trade names for ESC:
ESC system manufacturers include: