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NZ mandates electronic stability control on all cars – will this affect what you can buy?

Electronic stability control (ESC) is an electronic safety system that detect if your car is skidding. By selectively applying the brakes in varying forces individually on each wheel it helps the driver regain control. It’s so good that it’s estimated to reduce accidents where the driver has lost control by 30%. It doesn’t make the car handle any better, but it doesn’t give the driver much more chance of recovering incident-free if the limits are exceeded.

This is why New Zealand’s government has just made ESC mandatory on all new imported vehicles from July 1, 2015, all used SUVs and off-road vehicles by January 1, 2016, all used cars with engines bigger than two litres by January 1, 2018 and all other used light passenger and goods vehicles by January 1, 2020.

Should the UK also mandate ESC?

ESC is known by a number of different names. For example Audi, Fiat, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot, Renault, Skoda, Suzuki and Volkswagen use ESP (Electronic Stability Program); Alfa Romeo, Nissan and Subaru use VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control); and Ford, Jaguar, Mazda and Mini use DSC (Dynamic Stability Control). The electronics, though, are fundamentally the same. It’s been mandatory for ESC to be installed in all new cars produced in the EU since November 1, 2011. At the time it was proposed that no new cars would be allowed to be sold without ESC from 1 January, 2014 however we know that you can purchase a Great Wall Steed S pick-up or the base model Kia Picanto that doesn’t have ESC.

People can also import used vehicles from Japan, Australia, Korea, America or China, some of which don’t have ESC (mostly the base model or older versions). There are age limits for importing used vehicles (10 years old, unless it’s a classic car or unique vehicle).

Given that the potential reduction in the accident rate could save the UK economy billions a year, as well as reduce unnecessary pain and suffering on a human trauma level, it seems like a no-brainer.

If you are buying your first car, should it have ESC?

ESC has been around since 1995. As with any technology like this, it starts in the halo models (in this case, the Mercedes S Class as Mercedes-Benz was a co-developer of ESC), and gradually filters its way down as the research and development is paid off.

As a new driver your driving skills are still being honed. Any electronic trickery that can help save you in your inevitable moments of misjudgement has to be a good thing. If you can’t afford a car with ESC at least get one with ABS (anti-lock brakes) and EBD (electronic brakeforce distribution).

Some people may say that bringing in this law for used vehicles will increase the price of a used car. This may be the case except if the timeframe was kept to the same as New Zealand, by 2018 every car sold today (of which the majority have ESC) is going to be four years old, and much cheaper to purchase. At the same time, older vehicles from the national fleet will be scrapped.

This American video explains how ESC works


Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

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