Reducing Highway Deaths
Well, I'm a believer. In electronic stability control, that is. All it took was driving with and without ESC (that's the trade "lingo") to convince me this could be a life saving technology. Consumer Report's Chief Car Tester, David Champion, gave me a test drive (yes, the giant helmet was mandatory) to see how a car handles with and without stability control. For the first three times through the cones, David kept the stability control on. We drove at 50 miles an hour, veering around orange cones in a series of tight turns. Sure, we got thrown around a bit – but overall? The car made it through pretty easily.
The next step was to give it a shot WITHOUT the stability control. I braced myself for this one…and rightly so. The minute we tried to get around the first cone we began losing control. By the time we were trying to turn around the second cone, forget it. We were spinning in circles. My husband tells me, as a teenager he and his friends would get in their pickup trucks and do "donuts" on snowy Saturday mornings in their high school parking lot in Buffalo, New York… I'm guessing they would have liked this test drive…because that's exactly what we did:-"donuts". We repeated the test six times so that the cameraman could get all the angles -- and every time, we spun out.
The difference between having ESC and not having it, was remarkable. Imagine being on a highway and trying to quickly avoid something…you might swerve to your left and then try to pull to your right to get back to your lane. Without ESC, there is a high probability you'll spin out of control. That's the reason why studies predict ESC will save more than 10,000 lives a year. Consumer Reports says this is the biggest development in auto safety since the seat belt. I asked if there were any downsides at all to the technology. David Champion told me, he had looked but the only drawback he could find was that ESC wouldn't allow people who wanted to spin their cars around for fun to do so…I guess future teenagers who like to do "donuts" (like my husband did!) will be out of luck.