ESP is the acronym for electronic stability program, which is another name for electronic stability control. Some manufacturers have their own name for their brand-specific system, such as Toyota’s vehicle stability control (VSC). But no matter what name you know it by, you can think of the definition of ESP as a system that is there to keep you safe.
Stability control systems like ESP are not entirely stand-alone systems. They work in conjunction with, and in addition to, your vehicle's traction control setup to help prevent an accident in the off chance that your car starts to slide. Traction control systems use your car’s anti-lock brakes to pulse the brakes in the event that one wheel loses traction. Because of its benefits as a life-saving safety feature, traction control has been required on all new production cars sold in the United States since 2012.
ESP is not currently a mandatory safety feature. However, an increasing number of manufacturers are making it standard on new cars. ESP works by using sensors to detect when a vehicle is driving and may be traveling in an unintended direction. The traction control setup then uses a combination of brakes and engine power to redirect the car.
An example of this would be if you are driving in icy conditions and arrive at a bend in the road. You gently turn the wheel to steer the car into the curve, but the road is slick and the car doesn’t turn with the road – instead, the car continues heading straight. The ESP sensors will detect this disconnect between intended and actual direction. The ESP system will apply the brakes and engine power to put the car back on course – thus steering the driver out of danger.
Electronic stability programs are not foolproof. ESP will not always be able to prevent drivers from getting into accidents. But data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has shown that ESP setups do save lives. If you find yourself shopping for a new car, it might be worth your time to see if it comes standard with ESP – and if it is not a standard feature, you might want to add the option.