The most important role ESC plays in driving safety is reducing the number and severity of crashes. Almost everyone ends up in nasty, slippery driving conditions at some point, whether it's a rainstorm, a sudden patch of ice or a snowy road. Electronic stability control, along with the other safety and regulatory devices on-board today's vehicles, can help drivers maintain control on the road.
Electronic stability control will not engage in the event of a fender-bender -- the kind of accident that typically happens in stop-and-go traffic. However, some cars have other systems to help with this, including sensors in the front of the car that measure the distance between your bumper and the bumper of the car in front of you, but electronic stability control doesn't really come into play at that point. It's more helpful when slippery conditions mean a loss of control, regardless of whether there's anyone else on the road or not.
ESC has made driving easier and less likely to end in a serious accident. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said that ESC could prevent as many as 9,000 fatal crashes per year, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that ESC reduces single-vehicle car crashes by 26 percent, and single-vehicle SUV crashes by 48 percent [source: IIHS].
These kinds of numbers have prompted the U.S. government to require electronic stability control on all passenger vehicles by 2012. Consumer Reports found that by 2009, 73 percent of all cars and a whopping 99 percent of SUVs already had standard ESC. Another 11 percent offered it as optional equipment on cars [source: ConsumerReports.org]. As for Mercedes-Benz, which first used ESC in 1995, all the cars under its corporate umbrella (including tiny smart cars and luxurious Maybachs) have electronic stability control as standard equipment.
For more information about electronic stability control as well as other safety and regulatory devices, follow the links on the next page.