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ESC will be fast-tracked

ESC helps prevent a car from sliding off the road by cutting engine power and applying selected wheel brakes separately.

From November 2011, all passenger cars and four-wheel drives must have ESC as standard. Other vehicles have until November 2013 to make it standard.

The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Anthony Albanese, says the new regulations bring Australia in line with international standards.

"In fact, we are fully phasing in ESC one year ahead of Europe," he says.

The device is slowly becoming more widespread but remains an option costing up to $1500 on many vehicles. The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries says Australians clearly want the technology. Almost seven out of 10 new vehicles are being fitted with the device as standard but many brands still ask customers to pay for it in optional ‘safety packs'.

The latest FCAI figures show that 66 per cent of new passenger cars and off-roaders are now fitted with stability control, a 12 per cent increase in the past year.

"Manufacturers and motorists have moved quickly to embrace this lifesaving technology," the FCAI's chief executive, Andrew McKellar says.

McKellar says the car industry has worked with the Federal Government to ensure the technology becomes available as soon as possible.

"It is vital that there are nationally consistent regulations in place for ESC fitting and that these are harmonised as far as possible with international standards," he says.

Safety agencies welcome the decision, saying that the technology is the single-most practical safety advance since seatbelts were made compulsory in the 1970s and airbags became widespread in the 1980s.

Monash University research shows that stability control can reduce the incidence of single vehicle accidents by 27 per cent in cars and 68 per cent in off-roaders.

Stability control uses sensors to compare differences between the car's actual course and the driver's steering wheel input.

If the onboard computer senses that the driver is about to lose control, the system applies braking to individual wheels to bring the car back to its intended course and avoid swerving out of control.

Local carmakers Ford, Toyota and GM-Holden have welcome the move.

GM-Holden chairman and managing director Mark Reuss praised the decision to introduce a standardised national approach to vehicle safety rather than allow a state-by-state rollout.

"Mainstreaming ESC technology in passenger cars and SUVs will save lives, it is as simple as that," Reuss says. Like Ford and Toyota, GM-Holden is committed to rolling out the technology in its next-generation vehicles and adding it to those cars that do not currently have it as standard.

Once the domain of luxury European cars, demand for ESC is likely to accelerate ahead of the deadline as carmakers push to include the lifesaving technology in its vehicles.