This week it was announced that automakers will be required to make stability control standard in all cars by 2012. Our US government cited statistics that indicate the technology could save thousands of lives if equipped in all vehicles.
Stability control (a.k.a stability management, Active Handling, and Stabilitrak) essentially uses computers to detect the amount of yaw and compare it to the intended direction via steering wheel input. In other words, the computer looks at where you’re steering, and if there’s understeer or oversteer, the computer automatically applies a single brake to bring the car back under control.
Interestingly, most of the news coverage has referred to this as new technology. In actuality, this technology has been available to the market since the 1998 Corvette Pace Car package. In the world of technology, nine years ain’t new.
As a former owner of a 1999 Corvette with Active Handling, I was one of the first to own a car with stability management. If memory serves, it was about $500 as an option, and worth its weight in gold. I autocrossed that car extensively, and found the Active Handling system (with its competition mode, which retained yaw control, but disabled traction control,) important to learning the dynamics of the car. In my first full season with that Corvette, I won the class trophy.
Due to my personal experiences, I have long been a proponent of making the technology standard, along with side airbags. When people contact me for opinions on buying new cars, I always strongly suggest buying cars with stability control. All the new cars I’ve purchased since 1999 have come equipped with the technology as an option.
Sadly, stability control isn’t a magic pill. It can’t overcome the laws of physics, which means a reckless driver will still be able to spin or roll a SUV. Additionally, the equipment can’t save someone from an accident if they simply aren’t paying attention, as is the case for red light runners.
But every little safety measure with a proven record helps. Considering the cost to add the technology to cars with ABS is only about $150, this is money well spent. Of course, not all cars have ABS, but this ensures that ABS becomes standard, as well.
The automakers aren’t happy. They’re citing the same thing they said about airbags, seat belts, catalytic converters, 5mph bumpers, and every other thing: it will drive the cost of cars up to the point people won’t be able to afford them. Since people need cars, and all manufacturers are affected equally, this is always a stupid argument.
While I would prefer that Congress require better driver education, so people understand the physics of car control, I know this will never happen. In the absence of good drivers, making stability control required is definitely a good step in protecting the public.