How Traction Control Works

By: Jamie Page Deaton & Kristen Hall-Geisler

Image Gallery: Car Safety Cars spray water in downtown Auckland, New Zealand, as they drive through deep puddles during heavy rain.
Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

Way back in the dark ages of the 1970s, cackling automotive engineers in white coats, black rubber gloves, and goggles with flopping straps at the temples worked in deep, dark German basements to create anti-lock braking systems, or ABS. An array of sensors, computers and technological wizardry eliminated the need to pump the brakes. Once those sensors were in place, it was easy enough to make them do double-duty to keep the tires from chirping, smoking and slipping when the car accelerated, too. By 1985, some scientists of a less-mad variety had created traction control systems.

And now, traction control is widely available because it piggybacks on the vehicle's ABS -- which was required on all vehicles sold in the United States for the 2012 model year and beyond. And while it goes by many names and acronyms, they all mean the same thing: safer driving through traction control:


  • ETC or TC: Electronic Traction Control or just Traction Control
  • DSC: Dynamic Stability Control
  • DTC: Dynamic Traction Control
  • ESP: Electronic Stability Program