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Electronic stability control (ESC), also called electronic stability program (ESP) or dynamic stability control (DSC), is required safety technology on all vehicles sold in the United States, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, while its origins date as far back as the 1920s and the technology itself was invented in 1989, it was only included in luxury and premium vehicles. The safety benefits of electronic stability control, however, have been deemed so important that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has made it mandatory.

A Crash to Prevent Crashes

It’s common knowledge that machines don’t always respond the way the driver wants. During panic braking, for example, locked-up brakes eliminate any semblance of control — the exact opposite of the driver’s intent.

Interestingly, the anti-lock braking system (ABS) dates back as far as the 1920s, when it was developed for airplane landing gear. According to Road & Track, automobiles first featured ABS in the early 1970s. ABS interprets driver intent, preventing brake lock-up and maintaining driver control. That’s exactly what came to the mind of a Mercedes-Benz safety engineer in 1989 when he found himself lodged in a snowbank in northern Sweden. While test-driving a Mercedes-Benz, Frank-Werner Mohn ran off the icy road, narrowly missing some trees, when he had an epiphany: What if ABS could have helped him maintain control of his vehicle?

The actuators were there but needed a new way to sense vehicle motion and fulfill driver intentions. A gyroscopic sensor from a model helicopter was a good start but wasn’t fast enough. A missile program gyro sensor did the trick, helping the new electronic stability control system sense and react to vehicle motion. Using individual brake and throttle control, ESC accomplished keeping a wayward vehicle safely on the road, all without driver interaction.

How Brakes Affect Electronic Stability Control

Some estimate that over a million lives may have been saved since the introduction of Frank-Werner Mohn’s technology. By preventing spinouts, rollovers and skids, ESC may even save your life, but only if your vehicle is in good condition. Of course, one of the best ways to keep your vehicle in great shape is through regular maintenance and prompt repairs. Engine or transmission problems might disable ESC and ABS, rendering them useless.

Also, keeping your tires and brakes well-maintained will ensure ESC and ABS are working to their full potential. Low tire pressure, insufficient tire tread depth, abnormal tire wear, glazed brake pads, sticking brake calipers or spongy brakes could all make electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes pointless. Quality parts, like brake pads, will give your vehicle the reaction time it needs to respond quickly to changes on the road.

Keeping your engine, transmission, tires and brakes in good condition could be the key to your safety the next time ESC or ABS needs to step in to help you avoid an accident. In the end, the crash you avoid is the easiest one to survive.

Check out all the brake system products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on electronic stability control, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

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