DETROIT – Until now, statistical data with regard to the effectiveness of anti-skid electronic stability control (ESC) in preventing accidents was incomplete.

Both Mercedes-Benz and Toyota Motor Corp. concluded from their own separate research that ESC could reduce the number of single-vehicle impacts by about 30%, and Volkswagen AG found ESC could cut fatal crashes in Germany by 20%.

That research, although reflecting favorably on the technology, focused entirely on the review of actual crashes of vehicles equipped with ESC, which uses sensors to detect when a vehicle is on the verge of skidding out of control and applies antilock brakes to selective wheels to maintain stability.

This week at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress here, the auto industry receives its first study specifically targeting the effectiveness of ESC.

Conducted by the University of Iowa, the study found that 34% more drivers maintained control of their vehicles with ESC than without.

The University of Iowa employed its National Advanced Driving Simulator, which is owned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.

The simulator consists of a vehicle buck that sits inside a 360-degree wraparound screen that gives the driver a highly realistic view of the road ahead. In a panic stop, the vehicle buck lurches forward amid the sound of screeching rubber.

Some 123 drivers of varying ages participated in the study and had to complete three driving maneuvers: a high-speed lane change to avoid a car backing out of a driveway, a 65-mph (105-km/h) crosswind that makes the vehicle difficult to handle and a tight curve at moderate speed on a 2-lane country road.

The simulator allows researchers to observe human behavior and to measure drivers’ reactions in conditions that would be too dangerous to conduct in real life.

Half of the drivers drove a simulated Ford Expedition, equipped with Continental Teves Inc.’s ESC system. The other half piloted a simulated Oldsmobile Intrigue, equipped with Robert Bosch GmbH’s ESC. Half of the drivers were in vehicles with ESC activated and half drove the simulations without aid of the device.

Chassis and tire parameters for the Expedition and Intrigue were computer-modeled based on the published specifications for each production vehicle.

“This research, the first high-fidelity simulator-based analysis of driver response to vehicles with and without ESC, significantly changes the automotive safety landscape,” says the University of Iowa’s Yiannis Papelis, one of the leading researchers on the study.

Continental Teves and Bosch, the top two suppliers of ESC, last year formed the Electronic Stability Control Coalition to educate consumers about the technology’s life-saving potential.

The coalition financed the study and will attempt to publicize the results. Together, Bosch and Contintental Teves are contributing up to $1 million to market ESC and to educate the public.

This week, Bosch and Continental Teves learned that Advics Co. Ltd., the Japanese supplier formed last year from the brake operations of Denso Corp., Aisin Seiki Co. Ltd. and Sumitomo Electric Industries Co. Ltd., will join the ESC coalition.

Bosch, Continental Teves and Advics say they have not yet decided how Advics will participate and how much the company will contribute to the marketing effort.

ESC installation rates are on the rise, from 6% of new vehicles in the U.S. in 2002 to 10% in 2003 and up to 13% by the end of 2004.

Bosch predicts up to 25% of new vehicles in the U.S. could come equipped with ESC within four years, driven mainly by higher installation rates on SUVs and cross/utility vehicles.

In Europe, about 30% of new vehicles have ESC. In Japan, the installation rate is lower – more closely aligned with the U.S. penetration rate.

In the U.S., the technology carries an option price of between $280 and $1,000.

tmurphy@primediabusiness.com