This page contains questions and answers about the new requirements for electronic stability control, which take effect from 1 July 2015.

What is electronic stability control (ESC)?

Electronic stability control (ESC) is a low cost vehicle crash prevention system that intervenes to help a driver retain control if the vehicle begins to lose traction.

Some manufacturers have different names for the system, including Automatic Stability Control (ASC), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and Vehicle Skid Control (VSC).

How does ESC work?

ESC works by integrating information from sensors around a vehicle to determine and correct any difference between the intended path of the vehicle and its actual path. The sensors include speed sensors in each wheel, a sensor that detects the vehicle’s direction of movement, and a steering wheel sensor that detects the driver’s input.

If the system determines that the vehicle is not following the path intended by the driver – for example, because the vehicle is skidding out of control – ESC is able to independently control the braking of each wheel, and (usually) the torque provided by the engine, to bring the vehicle back to the intended path. While there are limits to what it can achieve, ESC is extremely effective in assisting a driver to regain control of a vehicle in an emergency.

What are the safety benefits of ESC?

International research indicates that ESC has the potential to reduce loss-of-control crashes by between 20 and 30 percent. For Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs), the potential reduction is even greater. Because of its proven effectiveness, Europe’s New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) and the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) require ESC to be fitted as standard in order for a vehicle model to be eligible for the highest rating of five stars.

What difference will mandating ESC make in New Zealand?

The number of light vehicles (up to 3500 kg) with ESC entering the New Zealand fleet is increasing, which is expected to prevent 410 deaths and 1890 serious injuries over the next two decades. However, without mandating ESC in New Zealand, vehicles without ESC will continue to be imported into New Zealand and the full safety benefits of this technology will not be realised. Making ESC mandatory will ensure all light vehicles entering the fleet are fitted with ESC, which is expected to prevent a further 22 deaths and 102 serious injuries.

When will ESC be mandatory for light vehicles entering the New Zealand fleet?

Vehicles coming into New Zealand are required to have ESC as follows:

  • all new light passenger and goods vehicles certified for entry into service from 1 July 2015
  • used class MC vehicles (four-wheel-drive SUVs and off-road vehicles) inspected at the border from 1 March 2016
  • used class MA vehicles (passenger cars) with engine capacity greater than 2 litres inspected at the border from 1 March 2018
  • all other used light passenger and goods vehicles inspected at the border from 1 March 2020

How does mandating ESC fit into New Zealand’s Road Safety Strategy?

Safer Journeys – New Zealand’s Road Safety Strategy 2010-2020 adopts a Safe System approach. Its goal is a safe road system increasingly free of death and serious injury. This requires a forgiving vehicle fleet that helps to reduce or avoid error, recover from error and absorb crash forces. As ESC is proven to reduce the risk of crashes as a result of driver error, the Safer Journeys Action Plan 2013-2015 included an action to mandate ESC for all light passenger and commercial vehicles entering the fleet.

Is ESC mandatory in other countries?

Yes. The United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia and the European Union have all mandated ESC for new light passenger vehicles and, in most cases, light commercial vehicles.

Why will used imports be required to have ESC from a later date?

Most used vehicles imported into New Zealand come from Japan. Although most recent models in Japan have ESC, many older vehicles do not. Used imports will be required to have ESC from later dates to ensure enough suitable vehicles will be available for the New Zealand market.

Will mandatory ESC affect the price of cars?

ESC is an inexpensive feature and has little effect on the price of a new or used vehicle. It is possible that importers of used vehicles will have to change the mix of models they import to ensure that they are fitted with ESC, but it’s unlikely that this will affect the price of cars in New Zealand.

Will mandatory ESC affect the supply of cars?

Almost all new vehicles are available with ESC, as it’s mandatory in the largest international markets. The requirement for imported used vehicles will be introduced later to ensure that enough vehicles are available. The overall supply of vehicles is unlikely to be affected but, for a short time, there may be restrictions on particular models.

How can you tell if a vehicle has ESC?

Vehicles fitted with ESC may have an indicator light on the dashboard and often have a switch to temporarily disable or reduce the influence of the system (which may be useful if the vehicle is stuck in mud or snow).

What if my vehicle doesn’t have ESC?

The requirement only applies to vehicles imported into New Zealand after the change comes into force. Vehicles already in the fleet will not be required to have ESC. However, if your vehicle does have ESC it will need to be maintained in good working order. This will be checked at warrant of fitness inspections.

Can you retro-fit a vehicle with ESC?

ESC systems are tailored to the precise characteristics of a vehicle at the time of manufacture and cannot practically be retro-fitted.

How has ESC been mandated?

ESC has been mandated for light vehicles by making an amendment to Land Transport Rule: Light-vehicle Brakes 2002 (the Light-vehicle Brakes Rule).

Was the public consulted on the changes to the Light-vehicle Brakes Rule?

The draft amendment Rule, overview document and questions and answers were released for public comment on 11 March 2014. The consultation was advertised in major daily newspapers and in the New Zealand Gazette. The NZ Transport Agency received 30 submissions on the proposed changes, which were taken into consideration in finalising the Rule.

What issues were raised by submitters?

  • Submitters were concerned that the draft amendment Rule did not exempt certain Low Volume Vehicles (LVVs) from the requirement to have ESC fitted (eg ’scratch-built’ vehicles). This has been addressed by drafting an exception to the fitting requirement for certified LVVs that are manufactured, assembled or scratch-built in quantities of 500 or less in any one year, and where the construction of the vehicle may affect compliance with any vehicle standards prescribed by law.
  • Submitters advised that some vehicle suppliers would have difficulty meeting the proposed implementation dates for Class NA vehicles (utes and vans), and suggested later dates. However, it is unlikely that any such difficulties would significantly affect the overall availability of utes and vans to customers. As the safety benefit of ESC is at least as great for utes and vans as for passenger vehicles, they have not been given different implementation dates.
  • Submitters advised of practical issues with the implementation dates of the draft amendment Rule being based on the ‘date of first registration’. As a result the relevant dates for implementation were changed for both new and used vehicles. New vehicle requirements will now be applied based on the date the vehicle was certified for entry into service and used vehicle requirements will be applied based on the date the vehicle was inspected at the border for use in New Zealand.
  • In addition, the proposed introduction dates of 1 January 2016, 2018 and 2020 for used vehicles were changed to 1 March 2016, 2018 and 2020 in order to avoid difficulties caused by the implementation falling in the middle of a holiday period.

Does the amendment Rule give me all the information I need to fully understand the changes?

This is an amendment Rule and, therefore, contains only the amending provisions. The amendment Rule should be read in conjunction with the principal Rule: Land Transport Rule: Light-vehicle Brakes 2002. 

How can I obtain a copy of the amendment Rule?

A copy of the final amendment Rule will be available for purchase from selected bookshops that sell legislation or from Wickliffe Solutions, telephone 0800 226 440. The Rule is also available on the NZ Transport Agency’s website(external link)

Rules can also be read free of charge, at the Transport Agency’s national office and regional offices.

Where can I get more information?

Further information about the Rule amendment is available from the NZ Transport Agency website(external link) or by calling the Transport Agency’s contact centre direct on freephone 0800 699 000.

How will the Transport Agency ensure people know about the amendment Rule?

A newsletter outlining the Rule changes will be sent to the groups and individuals who have registered their interest in the Light-vehicle Brakes Rule. The NZ Transport Agency will advise relevant industry groups of the changes.

Where required, the NZ Transport Agency will update factsheets and other information about new and used light motor vehicles.