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Stability control to be required on autos

WASHINGTON -- The US government, impressed by the promise of antirollover technology, is planning to require automakers to include electronic stability control on all new vehicles in coming years.

The technology has been hailed by automakers, suppliers, and safety advocates for its potential to reduce traffic deaths. The government's top traffic safety official has said it could have the greatest affect on auto safety since the arrival of seat belts.

About 40 percent of new vehicles have it as standard equipment, and auto industry officials expect it to be available on all vehicles by 2010.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is set to unveil proposed rules for stability control today that will also include testing standards for automakers. NHTSA officials have declined to release details.

One study found that stability control could lead to a reduction of 10,000 deaths a year if all vehicles had the technology, almost one-quarter of the more than 43,000 people killed on the road annually.

The crash avoidance technology senses when a driver may lose control, automatically applying brakes to individual wheels to help make the vehicle stable and avoid a rollover .

NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason has said the agency will mandate the equipment, estimating it would save 10,600 lives when fully implemented into the fleet.

During a July hearing before Congress, she said it ``could be the greatest safety innovation since the safety belt."

Rollovers have led to more than 10,000 deaths a year despite accounting for only about 3 percent of all crashes. SUVs and other vehicles with high centers of gravity have been particularly susceptible .

Automakers have been receptive to the technology and have indicated little resistance in the decision to mandate the equipment because they have already been including it on their vehicles.

Ford Motor Co. said yesterday that it would make it standard equipment in all new vehicles by the end of 2009 while General Motors Corp. has said it will be included in all vehicles by the end of 2010. Virtually all Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles have it as an option, and it has been standard on all Toyota SUVs since the 2004 model year.

Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator and head of Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog, said it would be difficult to predict how many lives electronic stability control could save.

``Until you get it into production and onto vehicles, you don't know how large the numbers are going to be," Claybrook said.

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