Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Safer Cars: Increased safety is paramount

Antonino Serra Cambaceres, Consumers International's 
Global Programme Manager for Consumer Justice and Protection, outlines why Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is needed in all vehicles following his personal experience of an ESC test on a race track in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The figures speak for themselves: every year more than 1.2 million people worldwide die from automobile accidents. Car safety is, therefore, an important issue and deserves the attention of those who advocate greater safeguards for consumers.

Consumers International (CI) is working on and supporting campaigns around the world to make cars safer. One way we are doing this is by calling for the inclusion of technological innovations in cars that help decrease the risk of fatal accidents. One of these new technologies is Electronic Stability Control (ESC), a device that allows cars to stabilise when a sudden and unexpected manoeuvre occurs, reducing the risk of roll-overs.

Many countries, including the United States, Israel, Ireland, Japan, Russia, South Korea and Turkey have decided that all new cars sold in their territories must have ESC. In the case of the United States, mandatory ESC was introduced in all new cars in 2012. It is estimated that the device has since saved more than 6,000 lives.

In Latin America the use of ESC is still a pending issue. In Brazil, the government expects that ESC will be mandatory for all new vehicles by 2022, a period too long for PROTESTE - Associação Brasileira de Defesa do Consumidor, one of CI's Brazilian Members , which launched a campaign to establish the device as mandatory by 2018, the date when it will be mandatory in Argentina.

On March 23, PROTESTE invited Brazilian and Mexican journalists for a demonstration of ESC at the Interlagos circuit in the city of Sao Paulo. The idea was to test two identical vehicles, one of which had ESC and the other not; a professional test driver was responsible for manoeuvring both cars with journalists as passengers, so they could personally experience the differences of stability in one car compared to the other.

I was fortunate  to do the test and confess that the result was striking. The driver took us first to the car without ESC by a part of the track and indicated, before performing sudden manoeuvres, the risks entailed with such movements. He then went to another part of the track that had been prepared in advance with cones and a copiously wet pavement and performed the same manoeuvres; showcasing the differences with the dry track. He later ran the tests with the car with ESC. The differences between the two were noticeable, and I experienced in practice how the car with ESC could quickly stabilise to prevent it from skidding or rolling over.

There is no doubt that this technology is essential in avoiding many of the accidents that occur today. Contrary to what one might suppose, the cost of including it in a car only makes a marginal impact on the final cost of the vehicle. We were informed that in Brazil the cost of installation is around USD $50. If we consider the price of some purely aesthetic car accessories like alloy wheels, spoilers or chrome fittings, or stereos that far exceed this figure and which are superfluous, the conclusion is that the inclusion of ESC should be urgent in all new models of cars.

Some luxury cars sold in Latin America already have ESC, raising the sad dichotomy that to have greater security more money is needed; the most popular cars that have the highest sales figures could still wait many years to include an essential device which, as noted, does not involve a significant cost.

We expect the Brazilian government to take note of this and bring forward the introduction of ESC in all cars to 2018. We also expect other Latin American governments to react, making ESC mandatory equipment for all vehicles as soon as possible.

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