McLEAN, Va. – New automobiles will be required to have anti-rollover technology by the 2012 model year, which should save thousands of lives annually, the government's traffic safety agency said Thursday.
"No other safety technology since the seat belt holds as much promise to save as many lives and prevent as many injuries as electronic stability control," Nicole Nason, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in announcing the agency's plan.
The electronic stability control requirements will be phased in, beginning with the 2009 model year. They should be fully in effect for vehicles on the market by September 2011.
The agency estimated the rules would eventually save between 5,300 and 10,300 lives each year and prevent up to 252,000 injuries annually.
The agency's proposal will be open to a 60-day comment period before the plan becomes final.
The crash avoidance technology senses when a driver may lose control and automatically applies brakes to individual wheels to help make the vehicle stable and avoid a rollover. About 40 percent of new vehicles already offer it as standard equipment.
Several automakers have implemented the technology on vehicles more prone to rollovers, including sport utility vehicles, vans and pickup trucks.
Ford Motor Co. said earlier this week that it would put stability control on its entire lineup by the end of 2009 and General Motors Corp. is planning to have the technology on all vehicles by 2010. Several automakers have made it standard equipment on SUVs.
Safety advocates have said the technology represents a crucial development in making cars, trucks and SUVs safer, drawing comparisons to the benefits of seat belts and air bags.
Nason said during a July hearing on Capitol Hill that it would save an estimated 10,600 lives when fully implemented into the nation's fleet of vehicles.
As part of the proposal, NHTSA officials outlined testing standards for the technology.
Rollover crashes are extremely dangerous -- they lead to more than 10,000 deaths a year even though they only account for about 3 percent of all crashes. More than 43,000 people are killed on the nation's roadways annually.
A study released this year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety predicted 10,000 deaths could be avoided each year if passenger vehicles had the technology.
The study found stability control reduced the risk of single-vehicle rollovers involving SUVs by 80 percent, underscoring the benefits for the vehicles with high centers of gravity.