It’s not often we celebrate the anniversary of automotive inventions - cup holders or fluffy dice for example - but few have had the impact of electronic stability control (ESC).
Like the seatbelt before it, ESC has been recognised as such a significant advancement in safety that most western markets now deem it compulsory for new passenger vehicles.
Benz refers to ESC as “a guardian angel” and “the most significant safety system of modern passenger cars”, while comparing its invention and uptake to that of airbags and anti-lock brakes (ABS).
ESC works by detecting a driver’s intentions during a moment when the vehicle is not under full control, before applying the brakes to one or more wheels to assist the driver in keeping the car pointing in the right direction.
While the exact figure would be impossible to know, Mercedes estimates - perhaps conservatively - that ESC has saved the lives of “several thousand people” over the last 20 years.
Bosch is more precise with its estimate, saying more than 6000 lives have been saved and a staggering 190,000 collisions have been avoided.
Like most safety innovations from Daimler, ESC was first seen in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but Benz points to an unlikely model for helping to grow the idea that ESC was the way of the future.
Mercedes fans will no doubt be aware of the initial grief befalling the first A-Class, which proved unstable during high-speed manoeuvring and rolled during testing in the hands of drivers from a Swedish car magazine.
As a result, Benz decided every A-Class model should come with standard ESC and quickly expanded this approach to cover all of its passenger models.
Bosch says it has gone on to manufacture more than 100,000 million ESC systems since 1995, but only 59 percent of new cars on sale worldwide have the technology fitted as standard.
This compares to 84 percent in Europe, where ESC is now compulsory in all new vehicles weighing less than 3.5 tonnes.
Australia’s first ESC laws came in 2009, when the Federal Government mandated the technology be fitted to all new models from November 2011.
In 2013, the law was updated to include all new passenger cars sold in Australia and complied after November 1; regardless of where they were in their respective model cycles.
That leaves commercials as the only class of light vehicle not currently required to offer ESC as standard in Australia, but dates of 2015 through to 2018 have been debated for LCV’s inclusion.
And the future for ESC?
Mercedes says further refinements to the technology can come through greater processing power and quicker responses, along with more compact components and better integration with other improvements in vehicle technology - such as electronic power steering.
Enthusiasts can expect ESC systems to feature more prominently in the world’s best performance and supercars, with switchable settings allowing drivers as much fun as they dare on the race track before returning all the aids to the ‘ON’ position for the drive home.
The next big step for ESC will likely be motorcycles, where new technology has been developed - again by Bosch - and dubbed ‘MSC’ (see video below). MSC is already available in some models.
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