Should Automakers Be Required To Install Stability Control Systems?

A California lawsuit is accusing GM of negligence for not including a stability control system as a standard feature on the Chevrolet Suburban. The lawsuit stems from a 2002 rollover involving a Suburban that killed a woman and her stepdaughter. GM paid the stepdaughter’s family almost half a million dollars to settle out of court.

“The safety benefits of stability control have been known to auto manufacturers since the mid 1990s,” Avila said. “But they delayed implementing because they felt that safety was not marketable, so instead of installing on the SUVs that needed it most because of their rollover problem, they put it on luxury SUVs and cars as a performance item.”

The federal government will require the inclusion of stability control systems by 2012, but GM will offer the systems on all models by 2010. Should automakers be required to install stability control systems? Tell us in the comments. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

Is safety a luxury option? [LA Times]
(Photo: Paul Keleher)


Edit Your Comment

  1. TVarmy says:

    Well, I think the federal law is just fine, because it lets the car makers plan ahead for the transition. Suing in the meantime seems to be a tad extortionist. I appreciate injured families getting money for damages caused by a faulty or dangerous product, but when the law to fix it is already on the books, and is somewhat imminent, it just doesn’t seem right.

    In the meantime, it would make a good voluntary measure, PR wise. They could run commercials to establish themselves as the “safe” car company.

  2. FishingCrue says:

    Yes they should HOWEVER they should not be held negligent for NOT installing stability control. While the loss of life in a traffic accident is always tragic, even more so when preventable with technology, the bottom line is that nearly all accidents are avoidable. Place the blame on the out of control driver, not the car manufacturer. Just as ABS and side impact airbags are not standard on all vehicles, stability programs have not been widely demanded by consumers.

  3. endless says:

    “But the auto industry also has a long history of withholding safety devices and fighting government regulations,” Claybrook added. “It’s fair to raise the issue of the fairness of putting stability control in some models and not in others.”

    The Riverside suit was filed after the deaths in June 2002 of Rosa Maria Rodriguez, 32, and her stepdaughter, MacKenzie Shaver, 7. Rodriquez lost control of her Chevrolet Suburban as she drifted off Interstate 10 near Blythe and onto sand on the shoulder.

    Avila said the Suburban began skidding as Rodriguez attempted to steer back onto the road, swerving so violently that it flipped and rolled over 4 1/2 times. No other cars were involved in the accident. Three other passengers in the Rodriguez vehicle were injured.”

    so SHE drifted off the side of the road, then SHE over corrected and fliped the car. I do not see anything in this post about the three people that did survive this crash. Though injured, they are actually the majority here, shouldn’t GM be getting paid for building the truck tough enough to protect them?

  4. Mad_Science says:

    No no no no no.

    They should sue the state for not requiring drivers to be adequately trained. A driver should be able to come off the freeway into dirt and still steer without completely losing it.

    Also, most traction control wouldn’t be able to save you in this case. If you hit the dirt going 70 and turn the wheel, all traction control will do is hit the brakes and cut the throttle. That’s not going to keep the truck from rolling if it’s sliding and hits some soft sand or suddenly regains traction as you hit the pavement.

    Cars would be a lot safer if they weren’t allowed to go over 65mph (or any other speed), but I don’t think it’s Chevy’s fault if I crash the car going 90. In principle, requiring auto makers to install every possible safety feature and eliminate every possible risk is a terrible idea.

    The problem is, the more creep-in of nanny features we have, the lower the expectations of drivers. This accident could have been prevented if the person behind the wheel was better trained.

  5. Tomsk sez so long Ash78, and thanks for all the fish! says:

    @Mad-Science: Could not have said it better myself. It’s tort suits like this that perpetuate the growth of the “pass the blame” culture in our society.

  6. jdsmn says:

    @ mad_science:

    Stability control and traction control are two different things. Traction control involves reducing the throttle to eliminate wheel slipping during acceleration, while stability control takes it a step further and uses a computer to apply different brake pressure to each wheel. It uses a computer to measure individual wheel speeds (along with other calculations), and can sense if the vehicle is spinning out of control. This IS effective in a situation like this.

    I do however agree, this can be avoided with proper training. I do also agree that this isn’t necessary to become a federal requirement – but I believe that manufacturers should be able to offer it as an option, not a standard.

    I for one, would rather not have this in my next vehicle, just for the simple fact that it is one more EXPENSIVE item to have to repair.

  7. crismateski says:

    What ever happened to learning how to drive your vehicle in a safe and controlled manner.

  8. swalve says:

    Did she buy the car new? Was traction control available as an option? If it really was important, she’d have chosen the option (if the above are ‘yes’)…

    And you’d have to be going REALLY fast to flip a Suburban 4.5 times. Perhaps even recklessly fast.

    That said, I think stability control ought to be mandatory on vehicles above a certain (to be determined) center of gravity. If you ever watch car racing, you’d see that the faster you go, the lighter a bump that can throw the car out of control. Traction control can sense a loss of control and apply braking at the appropriate wheel to bring the thing back under control. It IS faster and more versatile than a good driver, just like ABS. ABS/TC only fires when a wheel is already in a skid, and when a wheel is skidding, it has less traction than heavy braking just prior to the skid point.

    And combined with better driver’s education. Reduce fees for drivers that pass advanced driving courses.

  9. swalve says:

    Yes, the new safety features are expensive to replace/repair, but in general, cars are more reliable now and easier to diagnose. If something is messed up, it throws a code and you swap the module or solenoid or sensor.

  10. Nightwing says:

    @TomAnderson: Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  11. miketurk says:

    You really shouldn’t buy a car you don’t know how to control. Anyone who slides into the dirt and then overcorrects to the point that her vehicle rolls more tham 4 times has no business driving that vehicle.

  12. Mad_Science says:

    @jdsmn: Yeah, I meant stability control.

    Either way, most systems only operate through computer control of the brakes and throttle, which won’t save your from Sir Isaac.

    I’ve always been in favor of a graduated license program. The current system (as it is in CA) would qualify you to drive any little commuter econo-box.

    You want to drive anything with more than 120hp? Now you need a Tier II license. This includes driving stick, parallel parking, freeway driving, basic skid control, basic knowledge of car maintenance and function, and basic road etiquette training.

    Want to drive a sports car, truck, SUV, tow anything? Tier III. More extensive skid control, accident avoidance, driving in adverse conditions (rain, snow, dirt), basic vehicle dynamics, close-quaters manuevering (so you can actually navigate the thing in a parking lot), etc…

    With great power, comes great responsibility.

  13. derherzeleid says:

    I believe that stability control systems and anti yaw control etc should be installed on most cars. They definitely do help in situations such as described by the accident. Cars with high rollover risk like the suburban and other SUV’s should come with it standard in an ideal world. I however, would refuse to have such a system on my personal car because it would give me a little less control on my sports car handling. From a safety standpoint, yes, from a racing/driver’s standpoint, i have yet to see a system that is well implemented and can be turned off to allow the driver to drift or slalom through turns without huge losses of power and possibly control.

    Granted, these days we have dumbed down the driving experience for the majority of people, starting with our shift from rear wheel drive to front wheel drive to account for the relative ineptitude of the average driver. So stability control, ABS, etc are just further steps in the same vein of protecting the consumer from themselves.

  14. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Just because the technology for a certain safety system is available doesn’t mean it’s perfected or available on all models. This means, in many cases, a complete retooling of a model line to accommodate the new system. There’s no way every manufacturer can be expected to accommodate a new system into every model in one year, which is why systems such as ABS and airbags (once perfected) were phased in over several model years.

    Air bag systems were in the experimental stage in the early 70’s, and were available on a few models, but they certainly weren’t perfect or cost-effective to install in every model until the 90’s. So does that mean if I roll my 1980 Chevy Citation, I should be able to sue GM because they knew about air-bags way back into the 70’s? Come on, this is total BS. Given the severity of that accident, it probably wouldn’t have helped anyway. There’s no possible way for automakers to protect people from every possible accident scenario. Additional systems also cost money, raising the price of the car.

    What’s next? People suing automakers because their cars weren’t completely surrounded in rubber? Hey, wait, my car doesn’t talk or have self-righting anti-tip rocket boosters or turbo-boost….lawsuit!

  15. SOhp101 says:

    Eventually, yes they should be required like airbags, but they should not be held liable for cars that previously were not built with traction control.

    Paying $250,000 per head is actually really cheap. It would cost GM practically a million more in legal costs to try to settle this in court. It would make GM look bad if they won the case and tried to make a widower pay their legal fees, so I can see why GM agreed to a settlement.

  16. TechnoDestructo says:

    Unless her car records or the scene of the accident contains information on how she was driving, and she wasn’t driving her Suburban like it was a Civic (like too many SUV drivers do)…and her phone records confirm she wasn’t on the fucking cell phone, she shouldn’t see a dime.

  17. Trai_Dep says:

    Loath as I am to reveal my dark, black soul on this one. But these gadgets exist only to make Exxon Valdez class road behomoths handle like consumer-graded cars. Screw ’em. Darwin Awards in the making.

    Try to aim your careening cage o’ death into a hillside, and not at those two cute, laughing coeds tooling around in their topless Miata, though. Okay?

    And try to immolate yourself before you have a chance to contribute to our gene pool. Our kids (and grandkids) will say, “Thanks!”

  18. zolielo says:

    Poor drivers looking to blame others be damned. However, I am torn on this one, more tech or not. Driving an Evo with ever tech aid in the world can be fun but so is driving an old Mustang. Hmmm…

  19. Turboner says:

    @Mad_Science: You are so right. If we keep insulating people from needing to intimately know physics, what else in their lives will become dangerous, which once was perfectly understood?

    I say it should always be an option, or confine it to SUV’s.

  20. Rusted says:

    The safety device that works best is what’s behind the wheel. Drive like an idiot and not even an Abrams tank will be safe. They have rolled over too. They weigh 70 tons.

  21. faust1200 says:

    I think GM is setting a dangerous precedent by rolling over in this case. May as well sue them for not making the minivan out of bean bag chairs and fluffy pillows. I’m sure that would have helped in the crash too.

  22. lattehiatus says:

    A graduated license is a decent theory, but in practice, there will still be sub-par drivers in econo-boxes that slip through the cracks. Every single incompetent driver on the road is not only a hazard to themselves, but also to all the other drivers. Driving tests don’t reward good judgment – it’s all by-the-book, and according to that, the solution to 90% of any hazards you encounter is to use the brakes. And we wonder why there are so many traffic accidents.

    Laughably, the DMV states that a driver’s license is a privilege – yet there’s way too many people on the road who should have had that privilege revoked long ago.

  23. faust1200 says:

    @faust1200: “rolling over in this case” Lol sorry about that unintentional pun.

  24. virgilstar says:

    As the English comedian Jasper Carrot noted several years ago, “they should make the planes out of the same material they make the black-box recorders out of”. Maybe the same logic should be applied to cars? Our current thinking on air-bags is all wrong… just put one big giant air-bag that inflates around the outside in a rollover.

    As for stability control, provided there’s a switch to disable it if you’re in the mood for some “spirited” driving in a snow-filled parking lot, no problems from me!

  25. RaslDasl says:

    Toyota made stability control standard on all of their SUVs years ago (although I doubt it was before 2002). I always assumed it was more to avoid lawsuits such as this rather than any sense of corporate responsibility. Remember Edward Norton’s job in Fight Club? Calculate the cost of the fix or feature against the cost of the projected lawsuits. Lowest cost wins out.

  26. Underpants Gnome says:

    The stability control on my old VW saved my butt on an icy interstate bridge once, I highly recommend having it.

    That being said, I don’t think they should be sued for not having it. It seems like a better course of action would be better drivers ed programs to teach people that you don’t slam your steering wheel to the side when you drift off the road.

  27. WV.Hillbilly says:

    Let’s require full roll cages and fire suppression systems as well. And 5 point harnesses. And helmets. And HANS devices. And. And. And…

  28. Paul D says:

    The auto industry cares about safety only when forced to by the federal government.

    Without government intervention we wouldn’t have seatbelts or airbags, two proven safety features whose value is undeniable.

    Sad but true.

  29. CaptainRoin says:

    we should require CDLs to be able to drive an SUV.

  30. TurboBrick [LIGIER] says:

    +1 for requiring CDL:s for SUV’s, set the standard by defining a weight limit for them.

    I really don’t like the idea of mandatory stability control systems, because of the cost increase and also because this technology will be abused by designing vehicles which are completely dependent on this system (like many of the new top heavy tall SUV’s).

  31. Bourque77 says:

    Suvs are top heavy they like to flip over pretty easily. Like it or not they cant make the damn car drive itself so you are going to have to learn to control your vehicle, or you can get in a lot of wrecks.

    A little off topic but auto racing is where a lot of new safety devices/controls come from. Most race cars cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars so to impliment the newest safety systems will dramatically increase the cost of the vehicle, its a trade off. Eventually the govt steps in and the automakers are forced to do something. Everyone wants a cheaper car, well technology aint cheap.

  32. AskCars says:

    I believe every major manufacturer now includes stability as standard on all of their new SUVs.

    Ford has said all cars by 2009.

  33. @CaptainRoin: A-friggin’-men.

  34. John Stracke says:

    The lawsuit alleges that stability control was available in the mid-1990s. However, by the mid-1990s, it was commonly known that SUVs were prone to rollover, which means that the customers were deliberately choosing to buy dangerous vehicles. Retroactively blaming the manufacturer for that choice is not equitable.

  35. iron_chef says:

    @CaptainRoin: best post of the day

  36. poulw says:

    So it’s ok that today’s life saving technology is only an option added to more expensive models?
    by that logic only people who pay over $40k a year in health insurance should get dialysis.

  37. crimsontiger6 says:

    some cars don’t need stability control. For instance my 93 MX-5 can get totally sideways without a hint of body roll.
    However when I bought an SUV for my wife and kids I went the whole hog and got one with every safety aid available. It’s a Hyundai Santa Fe and it has stability control, traction control, ABS, curtain airbags etc. It’s a great ppl mover, appliance, shopping cart and I feel glad that my wife has all that added safety crap.
    I think my next car will be a Golf GTI and that has all the added electro crap and everyone still says its a great driver’s car.

  38. royal72 says:

    (a) put down the cell phone while driving.
    (b) learn to drive your vehicle.
    (c) suvs are not cars and are not designed to be driven as such.

  39. jeffj-nj says:

    Okay, I know this sounds crazy, but we could also teach people to drive.

  40. jeffj-nj says:

    My car makes me feel inferior as a person. I’m sueing.

  41. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I have to agree with everyone else. This is just another example of people not accepting responsibility for their own actions. Yes, an SUV is more likely than a sedan to roll over. But it takes some effort and/or some high speed driving to do so. And this piece from the article proves that it was driver error and high speed driving..

    Avila said the Suburban began skidding as Rodriguez attempted to steer back onto the road, swerving so violently that it flipped and rolled over 4 1/2 times.

    Drivers Education 101: If the car’s tires wander off the road, don’t make a sudden change in direction. Just ride it out and gradually make your way back on to the road.

    I honestly doubt a vehicle stability control (VSC) system would have prevented that accident. If such a system was installed, my guess is that the driver would have done what most people would have done when the computer takes over the driving.. Panic, hit the gas/brake, and overcompensate the steering to regain control. All of those actions counteract the VSC system.

    I’m all for safety devices in cars, but I think we should rely less on technology and focus more on driver education.

  42. Frost Face says:

    NO NO NO NO NO NO NO I can’t say no enough.

    How about requiring an advanced driving techniques course specific to your vehicle for all primary drivers?

    Or… how about we don’t just pass out licenses like cupcakes, and we start ticketing people for road raging, following to close, and driving dangerously… rather than for going comfortably faster than the speed limit (too slow is often more dangerous). Wow, this has the added benefit of being environmentally friendly (saving gas, less waste) and maybe we might not have 5 accidents that turn a 20 minute drive into an hour drive for everyone in the morning. How many of those people flipped their car?


    ….or we could just pass the rich get richer and the poor get poorer bill, requiring both.

  43. anatak says:

    “Is safety a luxury option?”

    Yes and no. Saturn has made quite a name for itself in safety, and done so at a reasonable price. At the same time, its no so much a question of should they do it, or be forced to do it. Will people pay for it? can you implement it throughout the model line from a cost stand point? These are not easy questions. Sometimes this is done successfully like how OnStar started out as a high-end Cadillac feature. Where now you can get it on nearly every vehicle GM sells, plus some by a few other manufacturers.

    I’m also not an advocate of these people who like to drive their SUVs like Nascars. Sometimes, you get what you pay for, sometimes you get what you ask for.

  44. brokenboy says:

    @derherzeleid: Have you driven a car with stability control on the road? Unless you are an amazing, world class driver, they make you faster because you can push the limits farther. The good sports cars today that have stability control all allow a fair amount of wheelspin / slide before they intervene. Cars like the Corvette even have different levels you can adjust.

    Beyond that, every yaw control system I have ever driven can be turned off with the push of a button for when you just need to be a hoon.

    I’m a pretty good driver, and I’m much faster on the track with stability control on because I’m willing to brake deeper and get on the gas earlier since I know I have something there to catch me.

    Stability control is an awesome technology for cars and has been statistically demonstrated to reduce single car accidents by about 50%. It should be required, and that’s coming from a total anti-regulation gearhead.

  45. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I don’t think the question here is whether Vehicle Stability Control (or any safety system, for that matter) is useful in reducing accidents. I have it on my car as well, and I feel that much safer knowing I do.

    The question here is “Should somebody be able to sue a carmaker because their older model didn’t have said safety system.” No, that’s absolutely ridiculous. You shouldn’t be able to sue just because your vehicle lacked something that was found on later models. In many cases, it’s just wasn’t technically feasible to include them.

    In other cases, advanced systems are only found on more expensive cars, or they’re an option on cheaper cars. That’s pure economics. If somebody is shopping for the cheapest economy car they can afford, of course they’re not going to opt for side-curtain airbags or VSC, because it adds another $1500 to the price tag of something they can barely afford already.

    At some point, the government very well might require VSC, at which point, you’ll either have to buy a vehicle with VSC or not buy one at all and you just won’t have any choice in the matter and you’ll be stuck paying for VSC whether you want it or not.

    The government doesn’t require VSC yet, didn’t in 2002, and therefore, GM was not required to have it on the vehicle. If it wasn’t available on that vehicle, even as an option, nobody was holding a gun to the head of the person that purchased that 2002 Suburban, and if they felt that strongly about it, they should have bought something else.

    For the record, if you hit the dirt shoulder at 60 MPH and then whip the wheel around and over-correct and hit the pavement sideways at 60 MPH, it’s going to flip and nothing is going to save you but luck or the almighty himself.

  46. RoninianHoon says:

    GRADUATED LICENSE!!! This would solve many, many, many, problems

    @Mad_Science: Way to drop a bomb!

  47. ahwannabe says:

    @poulw: Not exactly. People can always chose not to buy an SUV. Nobody chooses kidney failure.

  48. derherzeleid says:

    @brokenboy: Yes I have, and I have an innate hate for the technology mainly because on the road you always see the STi and Evo drivers who can’t control their cars, and just rely on the car to pull them through. For example, ABS won’t be more efficient than a well trained driver, but it will save the majority of drivers on the road because they are not well trained. It’s a sad fact and state of affairs, but that’s what we live in.
    A specific example that comes to mind is the 350z. The base model is the best to tune because it doesn’t come with stability control, while the higher models do and nissan made it so that the system can never be completely turned off. In that case especially, it is slower on the track and harder to control because of that. The technology is not at the point where I believe it should be in order to be required on all vehicles.
    The car I use on the track has manual steering, no abs, MR, and viscous 2.0 LSD. I’m trying to remember exactly which Porsche it was, but in a wet slalom the driver was better able to control the car without the assistive driving technology.
    My argument is, for the majority Yes, for sports cars, I want to TRULY be able to turn off the safety systems without having to purchase an after market EMS. Requiring all cars to have these electronic driving aids means this won’t be a possibility.
    It comes down to a) Personal preference and b) Driver skill.
    No one’s pointed out that if people learn to rely on more tech, what happens when they go further than the tech can bail them out? As you pointed out yourself, people are more willing to push the boundaries when they know there is something that will pull them out if they lose control. But the computers can only do so much.

  49. CrashXprt says:

    Anybody remember what happened when NHTSA had the genius idea of requiring auto manufacturers to provide an airbag system that would allow an unrestrained passenger to survive a 60 mph delta-V (speed change) frontal crash?

    Answer: We had airbag systems that had enough force to decapitate small children and untold numbers of low-speed broken necks, eye injuries, and other serious problems that were the result of BOMBS going off in peoples’ faces. It seems that the more NHTSA, and government in general, try to micromanage our lives, the more they screw it up until cooler heads prevail. Since NHTSA repealed that stupid rule and came up with more reasonable airbag requirements, and the injuries from low-speed airbag deployment have reduced sharply. When the automotive engineers complain about a particular rule, there is probably a very good reason. When the marketing department complains, we can be skeptical.

    My point is that NHTSA, though well-meaning, is trying to force the development of technology by making an arbitrary rule. Why not just let manufacturers offer the option, and then the consumer could decide if they want it or not.

    This lawsuit is stupid because 1. it assumes that the system would have prevented the injuries, 2. it assumes that the system would not have made the injuries worse, 3. was probably filed against the auto mfr because the incompetent lawyer let his 6-month statute lapse so he can no longer sue Caltrans or whoever is in charge of the road, and 4. it is yet one more example of a person trying to blame someone else for their hard luck or misfortune. Some stuff just happens and that is life.

    I’ve been investigating traffic accidents since 1990 and I have my share of experience in product liability suits. The only ones I have ever felt were meritorious were those wherein it was proven that the mfr REMOVED a safety system that was previously installed in a vehicle model to save money or to decrease weight (e.g. mid-90’s Jeep Cherokee side impact door rails); or cases where a design feature was documented to be a safety defect but the mfr refused to issue a recall because it would be too costly. The latter is fairly common, the former is fairly rare.

    NHTSA should stay out of preemptive rule making and stick with evaluating the millions of cars already on the road. If they would focus on investigating safety defects and do a better job of forcing mfrs to fix their mistakes, we would have much safer, and more affordable, cars and trucks. How Chevy was allowed to ever bring that piece of rolling junk Trailblazer to market is beyond my comprehension.

  50. bdon says:

    Any car/truck that offers it is bad. simply said. If a consumer can get thier monkey sized brain out of bigger and jacked up is better, the safer we will all be.