Image showing the ESC button steering wheel

Electronic Stability Control: Everything you need to know

Vehicle safety consists of many individual components that work together to keep you safe on the road. Airbags and anti-lock brakes (ABS) are the most advertised and well-known features that make up a car’s safety system. Another safety system that is quickly gaining ground in India is the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system that aims to help you stay in control of your car at all times. With ESC becoming a mandatory feature on all cars sold in India from 2023, here is everything you need to know.

What is an Electronic Stability Control System?

An electronic stability control system or electronic stability programme (ESP) , in simple terms, is a traction control system that helps provide stability to your car when you suddenly brake and maneuver on the road.  

Let’s consider a situation where you suddenly encounter an obstruction on the road. Your first reaction is to brake to slow the car down, take a swift turn to avoid the obstruction and then immediately veer back to your lane to avoid going off the road or colliding with another vehicle. In a car without ESC, this maneuver would cause the car to lose control and cause an accident. 

However, ESC-enabled cars have sensors on key points of the vehicle, like the tyres and the steering, that are connected to an onboard computer that continuously monitors whether the vehicle is responding according to the driver’s inputs. In the same scenario, the ESC kicks in to engage the ABS, which applies individual brakes, while also adjusting the power output to the wheels. This ensures the car remains under control by using the traction available and give the driver more control and time to react. Here’s a more visual representation of how this system works:

Stability control systems on different vehicle brands have different names and might have slightly different features but they all have the same function and that is to keep the car in the direction the driver wants it to be. However, stability control systems are not bulletproof and don’t mean that the driver should be carefree or overconfident while driving, it should be understood that the system is there in place to assist him/her in driving safely.

Why are stability control systems important?

Accidents happen without warning and the road is an ever changing environment where situations can change in milliseconds. In situations like these, us humans don’t have control over a lot of things, like the forces acting upon the car when driving, loss of friction on icy roads or wet surfaces and many more, but we can predict these situations and plan for them. This is where the stability control systems come in, they are the result of meticulous planning and engineering and having one onboard your car may very well be the difference between life and death. Stability systems are important as they assist the driver in driving through environments that otherwise would have been difficult. Electronic Stability Control systems have been made mandatory in the US, Canada and Europe. Premium variants of some Indian cars also have Stability Control or Traction Control systems.


How can the stability control system be activated?

Stability control systems are activated from the moment you start the car. In some performance cars or higher end vehicles, you can deactivate the system to perform drifts or bring your car out from sand or mud.

How do stability control systems make cars safer?

Stability control systems assist the driver in case of adverse situations as depicted above and can make driving much more safe. However, the important aspect to note here is that these systems are built to assist and not rely, so, it is always better to drive safe in the first place.

Are stability control systems mandatory on Indian cars?

While safety measures like airbags and anti-lock brakes have been mandatory on cars manufactured in India from April 2021, ESC will come into being from 2023, till then it is a feature for higher end variants.

Can stability control systems be used for off roading?

Yes, they can be used in off roading and many off roading cars have stability control systems, however, in case of extreme off roading, these systems might be a hurdle as sometimes spinning tyres are required to get out of a situation, in that case these systems can be turned off.

Can a stability control system fail?

The sensors, wires and control module are installed at places in the vehicle that are always dynamic, it is constantly changing and dealing with adverse situations time and again. So, yes stability control systems can become faulty at times, but to overcome this, the onboard computers give out signals on the dashboard to inform the driver about a potential problem, which can be checked out and rectified.

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