Electronic stability control systems will be mandatory in all passenger cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. by the ’12 model year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. says in finalizing a new rule initially proposed last September.

The federal agency says the implementation of the crash-prevention technology could save up to 10,000 lives each year on U.S. roadways.

”Like airbags and seatbelts, 10 years down the road we will look back at the new ESC technology and wonder how we ever drove a car without it,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters says in a statement.

Generally, ESC uses automatic, computer-controlled braking and steering to improve traction and keep drivers from losing control on slippery roads by correcting lateral changes.

Most auto makers already have adopted the technology, although it is most commonly found as standard equipment on higher-end vehicles.

Some already are moving to adopt the technology across their lineups. Ford Motor Co. says it will build all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury retail cars and trucks with standard ESC by the end of 2009. Toyota Motor Corp. also is targeting 2009 for equipping all of its vehicles, and General Motors Corp. is looking to reach that stage by 2010.

The NHTSA ruling requires 55% of each auto maker’s fleet to be equipped with ESC for the ’09 model year. That goes to 75% for ’10 and 95% for ’11, with the final phase to 100% completed by the start of the ’12 model year.

Some of the top suppliers for ESC systems include Delphi Corp., Robert Bosch Corp., TRW Automotive Holdings and Continental Automotive Systems.

Suppliers of the systems heralded the NHTSA announcement.

”Today is a banner day in auto safety,” says Continental Automotive Systems North America CEO William Kozyra.

”ESC is an elegant enhancement that assists drivers in maintaining control during extreme maneuvers. While safety belts and airbags are your first line of protection when a crash occurs, in many circumstances, ESC works to keep you from getting to that point.”