Forty-one people died on Victoria’s roads last year because they were in a car that did not have electronic stability control.
The braking technology, which has been mandatory in new cars in Victoria for six years, has been compared to seatbelts and drink-driving laws for its role in saving lives.
Electronic stability control could have saved 41 lives in Victoria last year. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Victoria suffered a horror year on the roads in 2016, with 291 people killed, the highest number of lives lost in a decade.
New research has revealed a staggering 14 per cent of those deaths can be attributed to the absence of electronic stability control (ESC).
The average age of a car in Victoria is 10 years, with most cars built well before 2011 when the safety feature became mandatory.
Last year just 31 per cent of registered cars in Victoria hadthe technology, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission, Sweden’s Transport Administration and the Monash University Accident Research Centre combined to analyse the circumstances of all 291 fatalities on the road last year.
Their research, which was based on Victoria Police crash data, is the first time a study of its kind has been done in Australia.
Itfoundthat 140 of last year’s291 deaths occurred after a vehicle veered out of itslane, and that 41 of those 140 deaths –29 per cent –could have been prevented if the vehicle had electronic stability control.
Ten of those 41 deaths were from head-on crashes and 31 were from vehicles running off the road.
The research suggests an enormous cut could be made to the state’s road toll if more people drovea car with ESC technology, particularly on country roads.
Thirty of the 41 preventable deaths occurred on rural roads, which consistently have a higher death toll than Melbourne roads, and where veering out of the lane is the cause of 85 per cent of fatal crashes, according to TAC data.
ESC technology senses when a driver is losing control and a vehicleis beginning to skid sideways, and automatically applies the brakes to individual wheels to put the car back on its intended path.
Monash University crash investigator David Logan said although the stability control doesnot prevent everycrash or save every life, the study indicated it plays a huge role in reducing road trauma.
“ESC has the ability to prevent about a third of those run-off road crashes,” Dr Logan said.
“It doesn’t work all the time … you might still be seriously injured but you’re likely to be less seriously injured and you might turn a fatality into a serious injury.”
Samantha Cockfield, the TAC’s road safety director, said the study proved that a shift to newer, safer cars iscrucial in reducing the road toll.
“We know people will continue to make mistakes on our roads and that is why the cars we drive and the safety features in them are so important,” Ms Cockfield said.
“Features like ESC intervene at that critical moment and can turn a potentially fatal mistake into a bit of a fright for the people inside the car.”
The TAC has set a long-term goal of zero road deaths and Ms Cockfield said that through technology, society would ultimately reachthat goal.
“ESC is just one feature and it could have saved 41 lives –other technologies are emerging like automaticemergency braking that have even greater potentialin saving lives,” she said.
“This is why one day we will get to a point where no onewill be killed on our roads.”
The RACV’s manager of vehicle engineering, Michael Case, said electronic stability control was one of the most profound advances in vehicle safety in recent decades.
“Everyone in road safety is looking for a silver bullet, that’s what seatbelts were, and drink-driving regulations,” Mr Case said. “I would put ESC up there.”
So far, there is no way to retrofit older cars with this technology.
He said there was a misconceptionthat large, high-priced cars were safest but new small cars with highsafety ratingscould be bought for as little as $13,000.
The Andrews government has set a target to reduce the state’s road toll to 200 or fewer lives lostby 2020.
So far 116 people have died on Victoria’s roads this year.
In January, while noting a sharp rise in Australia’s road toll, the Turnbull government’s Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester urged parents to “spend a little bit more” if buying their child’s first car, and purchase one with modern safety features.