Many drivers may have heard of electronic stability control, but few have seen it in action. That's likely especially true for teen drivers. At the Street Survival School held at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center this spring, teens and their parents learned first hand why we and other auto safety advocates consider stability control the most important safety advance in cars since the seat belt.
As students and their parents watched, Consumer Reports automotive engineer Jake Fisher drove through the emergency avoidance maneuver. The test, known in Scandinavia as the "moose test," simulates the evasive action a driver might have to take on a rural two-lane highway when an obstacle, such as a moose, a child running into the road, or a bicycle pulling out from a side street appears in the travel lane. The driver swerves left, into the oncoming lane, to avoid the obstacle. Then he has to swerve back to the right quickly to avoid oncoming traffic. The maneuver upsets the balance of most cars and tests their handling behavior at the limit.
The kids and parents got to witness this juggling act as Fisher hurled through the course at just under 50 mph. Without stability control, the out-of-balance car's tail swung out wildly wagging back-and-forth and eventually leaving the marked roadway, as Fisher tried to get back in "his" lane. With electronic stability control engaged, there was no such drama. The car threaded neatly back into the lane at the same speed. (The trick is that ESC can engage the brake at each individual wheel to help keep the car going where the driver steers it.)
For more on safe teen driving, see our special section.
Guide to distracted driving and teen safety
Video: Consumer Reports teaches teens how to control sliding car
Street Survival: Teens learn life-saving driving lessons at Consumer Reports test track