EU Regulators Go For Gadgets

Martin Schwoerer
by Martin Schwoerer
eu regulators go for gadgets

AM-online reports the European Commission has unveiled new safety rules that– it says– could save 5k lives a year. Oh, and help cut fuel consumption. If the rules are approved by the European Parliament, all new cars sold in the Eurozone from 2012 will be equipped with tire pressure monitors, electronic stability control (ESC) systems and low-resistance tires. The Commission expects the measures to add €100 – €300 to the price of a new car. But hey, the extra cost would be more than offset over the car's lifetime by savings on fuel. As we Germans say, the Teufel is in the details. Tire pressure monitors are sensible; so many people waste fuel and (through longer braking distances) endanger others when they drive with flabby rubber. But, at the same time, tests have shown that low resistance tires can result in significantly longer braking distances. The Commission contends that, in normal driving conditions, ESC can reduce the number of accidents by around 20 percent. The science on compensatory behavior is not yet clear enough to make that claim; some studies show people drive more dangerously when they have ESC. What was that about die Straße to Hölle?

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  • Offroadinfrontier Offroadinfrontier on Jun 01, 2008

    "Ya know, a well sorted suspension can do wonders for a vehicle that doesn’t have ESC." So can a general safety course. Or proper brain functions. Or NOT TEXTING or EATING PIZZA or READING A BOOK while driving (needless to say, I don't like my local drivers). I think ESC is a great handicap for those who can't drive, or for bad weather conditions & unexpected hazards. But, back to the above mentioned quote - good ol' geometry can help out just as much.. which worries me to think of the, ah, cheaper manufacturers that might, say, "substitute" a "proper" suspension with a "safety feature." ...

  • Martin Schwoerer Martin Schwoerer on Jun 01, 2008

    offroadinfrontier: I agree with you. And I think every car should have a button with which ESC can be turned off, so that people (and reviewers in particular) can find out whether a car is messy and unstable at the limit, or safe. Indeed, there is some moral hazard here. Using ESC, car companies can design cars that are ever more vertical and SUV-like, and claim that they are safe. But there is no subsitute for a low center of gravity. The second hazard is this. Young people learn through mistakes. You overcook a bend and your car almost doesn't make it: you remember to be more careful the next time. Minor mishaps prevent major accidents. ESC prevents minor mishaps. Whither safety? The third hazard, of course, is the homeostatic effect that Frank Williams wrote about and I mention in the above piece: ESC increases the general feeling of invincibility that modern cars give you.

  • Nicodemus Nicodemus on Jun 01, 2008

    Here is a very recent study of the efficacy of ESC in real life applications:

  • Martin Schwoerer Martin Schwoerer on Jun 02, 2008

    Thanks very much, Nicodemus! Interesting stuff: "It was found that the fitment of ESC (...) was associated with a (...) 35% reduction in the risk of single vehicle crashes in which the driver was injured. It was also found that ESC was more effective in preventing single vehicle crashes for 4WD vehicles than for passenger cars (...). The effect of ESC on multiple vehicle crashes (...) was not clear from this preliminary analysis. "Furthermore, a follow-up study will help determine whether the effectiveness of ESC in reducing single vehicle crashes is susceptible to a learning process. Lie, Tingvall et al (2006) noted that it is possible over a period of time, drivers of ESC-equipped vehicles may adapt their driving behavior". My conclusions based on this study: 1 - ESC is good to protect SUV drivers from themselves. 2- ESC is not necessarily particularly useful for drivers of passenger cars, but won't harm either (unless they adapt their driving style). 3- ESC doesn't seem to be useful in preventing somebody from crashing into you. 4- Widespread introduction of ESC will improve the safety statistics of SUVs, which may lead ever more people to the conclusion that SUVs are safer. 5- The whole useful effect of ESC -- to protect SUV drivers from themselves -- may be negated over time by riskier driving. All the negative effects will remain.