WASHINGTON – Ten thousand fatal automobile crashes a year, nearly one-third of all such accidents, could be prevented if more vehicles were equipped with technology that helps to keep them from rolling over, the insurance industry said Tuesday.
A study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said the technology, electronic stability control, reduced the risk of single-vehicle rollovers involving sport utility vehicles by 80 percent, and 77 percent for passenger cars.
Researchers said it reduced the risk of fatal crashes by 43 percent. If all vehicles had stability control, it could prevent as many as 10,000 of the 34,000 fatal crashes on the nation's highways each year, they estimated.
"The findings indicate that ESC should be standard on all vehicles," said Susan Ferguson, the Institute's senior vice president for research. "Very few safety technologies show this kind of large effect in reducing crash deaths."
Auto safety officials note that rollovers are extremely dangerous, accounting for only 3 percent of all crashes but leading to more than 10,000 deaths a year. An estimated 43,200 people died on highways in 2005.
Stability control, which automatically applies brakes to individual wheels if they sense a vehicle is veering off course, has become more widely available in recent years, especially on SUVs and pickups. Automakers said the study underscored the technology's lifesaving potential.
"This is a really significant finding," said Bob Lange, General Motors Corp.'s (GM) top safety official. "It looks like electronic stability control is the most significant safety advancement since safety belts."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently developing a new performance standard for stability control and is expected to release the proposal later this year.
NHTSA recently estimated that 70 percent of new SUVs have stability control as standard equipment. The Institute said the feature was standard on 40 percent of all 2006 passenger vehicles and optional on another 15 percent from the 2006 model year.
Previous research by NHTSA and the Institute found the technology led to significant reductions in single-vehicle crashes and fatal crashes involving one vehicle.
The Institute's latest study expanded on the research it conducted in 2004, which predicted the technology could save 7,000 lives a year.
The new study confirmed that stability control reduced one-car fatal accidents by 56 percent. The systems reduced all one-car accidents — fatal and nonfatal — by 41 percent.
Researchers based their findings on a federal fatalities database and police reports of crashes in 10 states from 2001-2004.