Vehicle Stability Control – Pros and Cons

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One of the most passionate debates in the world of automotive technology is the effect that electronic driving aids (such as stability control and traction control) have had on the average level of driving skill across the country over the past ten years. There are those who applaud the efforts of car companies to come up with systems that react to changing road conditions more quickly than a human ever could, thus preventing a potential accident. On the other side of the fence are people who lament the fact that many drivers have come to rely on these electronic nannies and have let their own abilities behind the wheel atrophy as a result – a state of affairs that could prove fatal should this technology ever fail when it is needed most.

VSC pros and cons

Here’s some more info about one of these systems – VSC – and a break-down of each side of the argument:

What Is VSC?

Known by a number of different names, at its core an Vehicle Stability Control (ESC) system is designed around a computer processor that receives input from about a half dozen sensors:

  • Wheel speed sensors, which measure the speed of each wheel with a very high degree of accuracy
  • A yaw sensor that measures rotation about the vehicle’s z-axis, or rotation about a line that extends from the ground straight up into the sky
  • A roll sensor that measures body roll, or rotation about the vehicle’s long axis

These sensors – combined with readings from the engine, transmission, and steering column – can provide a very accurate model of a vehicle’s movement and orientation. Using this model and some sophisticated programming, vehicle stability systems use a combination of individual wheel braking adjustments and engine braking to try and keep a vehicle out of danger.

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Typically, an VSC system lies dormant until a vehicle is subject to an unusual set of driver inputs or its sensors begin to report back information that is outside of the expected and safe operation of the automobile. At the point that the system determines things are about to get out of hand it can mitigate or stop a potential spin, prevent loss of control, and help stop a loss of traction that the vehicle is experiencing.

VSC Pros and Cons

There is no question that vehicle stability control systems save lives. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have performed studies that indicate that 33 percent of all fatal accidents can be prevented through the introduction of standard electronic stability control. This has led to the requirement that the technology become mandatory on all vehicles sold in the United States for the 2012 model year and beyond. In addition to reduced loss of life out on the country’s roads, fewer accidents also mean lower insurance premiums spread out across all drivers.

That being said, the arguments against the continued encroachment of VSC also hold water. These types of systems are completely reliant on the sensor information that they receive, which never includes how much traffic might be around the vehicle, what the road looks like ahead or whether you might actually need more power, not less, in order to handle an emergency situation. It can be disconcerting for drivers to suddenly have the brakes activate and the throttle fade while VSC attempts to regain the stability of vehicle, particularly if the emergency maneuver it is reacting to was initiated in order to avoid an animal or an unexpected obstacle. Finally, in certain extreme weather situations a VSC system can actually make it more difficult – if not impossible – to maintain the forward momentum required to plow through deep snow or other slippery conditions.

In other words, VSC is only a computer system, and it can’t possibly understand a situation the way that a human being can.

While some vehicle stability control systems can be completely shut off by the driver, others (like the Tundra’s VSC system) linger in the background unless manually disabled by pulling a fuse (which, by the way, can set a check-engine light). The safety net provided by VSC is well established, but its prominence amongst new cars and trucks forces us to ask ourselves just how much control over our driving experience we are willing to give over to computers and software?

Vehicle automation is increasing at a rapid rate, and the vast majority of drivers choose to rely on these technologies instead of investing in a skid control school or other form of advanced driver education. Regardless of one’s personal feelings on the ubiquity of VSC, it is hard to argue against the utility of learning how to handle a vehicle in an emergency situation where this type of system might not be able to perform to the level required to keep everyone onboard safe and sound.

It seems that, regardless of public concerns, the regulators have spoken. VSC is going to be standard safety equipment on all 2012 vehicles – what do you think?

Does a projected decrease in fatal accidents justify the expense and intrusion of this electronic system?

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  1. rich says:

    I guess that’s the direction our technology is leading us. Most of our newer aircraft are computer assisted. The F117 (stealth fighter) can’t fly without the computer. If it goes during flight then the pilot had better eject. I don’t see a problem with the VSC system, in fact this system is probably good for our young inexperienced drivers, especially in winter regions. Back in the day, learning to drive was strictly trial and error…sometimes you got a lesson and other times you crashed. The VSC could eliminate the latter.

  2. Jason says:

    rich – Good point. I think you’re absolutely correct in that young drivers REALLY benefit from this system. I honestly think the trade-off is worthwhile, but I understand why a lot of people aren’t happy about it. I think that the best solution is a true “kill” switch, but that seems like an impossible request considering very few vehicles have that option.

  3. Mickey says:

    Only twice has the VSC gone off on my truck around the same cloveleaf going to church. Once by myself and I knew when it activated the sound of the rear wheel when activated. The second time the wife heard it and didn’t know what was going on. Having the rear anti-swaybar gets me into trouble taking turns at a faster speed. Just have to slow down as normal.

  4. Winghunter says:

    VSC nearly got me rear-ended and as Jason said, it will cause accidents by limiting responses to emergency situtations. Think of how many different times that you’ve experienced in driving over the years to count up all the accidents you avoided by cutting the steering wheel hard and needing some power…Have your deductable ready??

    AND is that all it takes is pulling a fuse!? Everybody wave goodbye to my control stealing/accident causing VSC!

  5. danny says:

    i can think of several instances in the past where vsc could have hampered my ability to avoid an accident. The one and only time my vsc has come on so far was a hydraplaining incident and it engaged long before i knew i was losing traction. i guess we cant have it both ways.

  6. mk says:

    I’m with winghunter on this one. My VSC comes on a lot here in WI winters along with traction control where it cuts the engines power almost daily in WI winters. Maybe I have a led foot (yes I do), but well over 50 times per year mostly in the winter the darn powerful engine cuts out at stop signs with a minimal amount of slush/snow being a tad slippery. I want to pull out into traffic and speed up quickly and the truck just won’t do it. More than a dozen times I have almost gotten into an accident because of this when the truck does not speed up and oncoming traffic is coming my way. It pisses me off. Wish VSC and traction control and anything else electronic like anti-lock brakes (although those are nice mostly except the boing boing feel of the pedal of which happens a ton in the winter driving also) would not be invented and mfgs. concentrate on getting 25 mpg hwy. on our tundras. I pick mpg and comfort and power over safety anyday.

  7. rich says:

    I guess the only way to statisfy all of the customers is to have a true kill switch…as Jason stated. No one can say for sure what would have happened if they just assume VSC got in the way. So I say put a true kill switch in and then we can trade the stories as the events dictate. However, I still stick to my original point that this system will get the inexperience drivers out of trouble.

  8. Jason says:

    Both sides make great points. I think the long and short of it is that we’re stuck with this technology. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t demand a true kill switch. My suggestion is to send an email to Toyota customer service expressing your desire for a true VSC kill switch –

  9. mk says:

    Good luck with the emailing of c/service. They could care less and that is what is starting to suck about Toyota quality in terms of true customer service. Although, I know first hand GM’s customer service is still much worse but if Yota keeps this up, they will be hurting. All c/s says is we have to honor what the dealers say being their eyes and ears and brush me off when it comes to warranty work, etc. A lawsuit by me awhile back didn’t even ripple their feathers.

  10. Jason says:

    mk – I think that it’s a long shot, but I’m hopeful that things are changing at Toyota every day.

  11. Paul M says:

    2010 Doublecab 4×4

    I do find the VSC activating when on snow/slush conditions but I get around that by just flicking over to 4 wheel high and it overrides it. It might not always be an option but I do it frequently.

  12. James says:

    Yes, just a real kill switch….

    I’ve owned Toys over 30 years & this VSC crap makes me sick to my stomach.
    My 95 Crusher had none off this BS…
    I now own a 2008 Tundra 2wd DbleCab 5.7..& the stupid thing come on everett time I start the Truck as soon as the wheels start rolling….junk!!!!
    Which is useless in this mode…2wd shouldn’t even have this crap…Majorly Disappointed!!!!!!..

  13. Chad Anderson says:

    Hey guys, I have a 2008 Dbl 4×4 5.7L and at a stop (and maybe low speeds) hold the traction control button until the VSC off light comes on. The traction control and VSC will be off at this point.

  14. aurele says:

    Hey all, i have an 07 tundra crew max limited , have trouble with the system , my vsc light flashes , my slip symbol stays on and my 4×4 low light flashes , all this and my truck wont go faster than 80km or 48mph. it did this 6 monthes ago for two days then quit, now its on again , i live in canada and this happened after a warm night parked in the garage , i wonder if this is a moisture issue in a sensor because of defrosted snow or is there something else ???? p.s not the biggest fan of traction control !!!

    • Len says:

      You need to get you’re computer re flashed. Secondary air valve sticking and you’re computer notices this and puts it into limp mode. Disconnect battery for a minute to reset it

  15. Sean T. says:

    My 2012 Tundra TRD Sport does not have a VSC off button. Am I able to turn off the VSC without this button? I had a supercharged 2007 SR5 Tundra. I had to disable the traction control and press the vsc off button to experience the full power and performance the supercharger had to offer. Hopefully the dealer can install a VSC off button on the new truck. Especially if I decide to get another supercharger.

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