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ESP Saving Lives

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Rob Rothwell
I recently participated in a half-day ‘Sprinter on Tour’ program, convened by Mercedes-Benz Canada. The goal of the event was to highlight the attributes of the Sprinter line of commercial vans. While the program consisted of many interesting elements, the aspect I found most compelling pertained to the sophisticated Adaptive Electronic Stability Program (ESP) that’s included as standard Sprinter equipment.

Adaptive Electronic Stability Program
Photo: Rob Robthwell

The Sprinter ESP demonstration vehicle had been outfitted with huge outriggers that allowed it to tip to the point of no return during an emergency maneuver without actually rolling over. The outrigger on the roll side of the vehicle would scrape the ground, preventing a full rollover.

To ensure that a rollover would be initiated, the Sprinter was loaded with 700 kg (1,540 lb) of water in three large tanks that were elevated in the cargo area of the truck. This made for a dangerous top-heavy load.

With three of us onboard, Danny Kok – a professional Mercedes-Benz driving instructor – drove the van at 30 km/h with the ESP deactivated and made an evasive emergency maneuver. While it was unsettling, Danny managed to toss the awkwardly loaded Sprinter side to side without any loss of control.

The speed was increased to 50 km/h. Danny sharply swerved the Sprinter to the left then immediately to the right. With tires folding under, the Sprinter quickly rose up on two wheels on its way to a complete rollover. Fortunately, the outrigger performed as intended – phew!

The next run was at 70 km/h but on this occasion, the ESP was active. Danny flung the Sprinter left and right with the same vigor as before, but the ESP system detected our peril and urgently applied wheel-specific braking to keep the rubber on the road and the Sprinter shiny-side up.

I’ve experienced the intrusion of stability control systems in a variety of vehicles and scenarios, but I’ve never felt it take control of a vehicle so aggressively to prevent impending doom. The adaptive system in use in the Sprinter senses the vehicle’s centre of gravity based on the weight characteristics of its load.

This is an important feature of the system given the ever-changing loads that most commercial vans deal with. Whether it’s a commercial van or passenger vehicle, including pickups and SUVs, electronic stability control technology is now an essential lifesaving component of modern motor vehicles.

Adaptive Electronic Stability Program
Photo: Rob Rothwell

I am a huge proponent of this technology, and would strongly recommend that it be considered essential in all future automotive purchases, especially if the vehicle is intended for less experienced drivers. Few driving schools teach skid control, except on the whiteboard.

The good news is that since September 2011, the Government of Canada has required all new passenger vehicles to be equipped with an electronic stability control program. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that one third of all fatal motor vehicle accidents in the US could have been prevented by electronic stability control technology. That’s a wake-up call if ever there was one.
Rob Rothwell
Rob Rothwell
Automotive expert
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