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Feds to require stability control on all vehicles

Federal regulators propose rule that will require new safety feature on all U.S. passenger vehicles.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced a proposed rule Thursday that will require Electronic Stability Control on all passenger vehicles in the United States.

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) uses a variety of sensors to detect when a car is a skid or rollover is happening, or is about to happen, because of hard cornering or slippery road conditions.

The system will rapidly apply the brakes for fractions of a second at individual wheels and simultaneously reduce engine speed to keep the vehicle under control. Such systems can often react even before the driver is aware that there is a problem.

The proposed rule would require all manufacturers to equip passenger vehicles under 10,000 pounds with ESC starting with the 2009 model year and to have the feature available as standard equipment on all vehicles by the 2012 model year.

Several studies have shown ESC to be extremely effective in preventing the most dangerous types of crashes.

About 43,000 people are killed in auto crashes in the United States each year. The agency estimates that ESC will save between 5,300 and 10,300 lives annually and prevent between 168,000 and 252,000 injuries.

NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason called electronic stability control for cars "the greatest life saving improvement since the safety belt."

ESC tends to prevent more single-vehicle crashes, which usually involve a vehicle running off the road, the study found, but it also helps prevent the most serious, high-speed multi-vehicle crashes. The technology had little effect on less serious "fender bender" crashes, presumably because those types of crashes usually do not involve loss of vehicle control.

ESC is currently standard on about 40 percent of 2006 passenger vehicle models and is offered as an option on another 15 percent. On some vehicles, it is only available as part of a more expensive option package.

Adding ESC to vehicles that already have anti-lock brakes will cost car companies about $111 per vehicle, the agency estimates.

Ford Motor Co. recently announced that ESC would be standard on all of its cars and trucks by 2009.

General Motors has also said that it will make ESC standard on all of its vehicles by the end of the decade.

DaimlerChrysler's U.S. Chrysler Group has said it will have the technology as standard equipment on all of its SUVs, including Chrysler Jeep and Dodge vehicles, by the end of 2006.

Unlike other technologies, such as airbags and anti-lock brakes, car companies have a variety of different names for ESC. General Motors calls their system StabiliTrak while Chrysler calls their system Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and Ford calls its ESC system AdvanceTrac.

NHTSA will be taking comments from the industry and the public about the proposed rule for the next 60 days.

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