Under what circumstances might a driver want to switch off the electronic stability control?

As a sensible driver, the ONLY TIME you would want to disengage traction control is when you are climbing a steep hill where the surface feels loose due to gravel and stones or when you are trying to pull your car out of the mud. THERE IS A HUGE BODY OF RESEARCH that shows that airbags, seat belts and electronic stability control (ESC) are three of the most important safety features in modern cars. ESC helps prevent you from losing control of the car, airbags provide a cushion so you don't bounce off hard materials during a crash, and seat belts keep you inside the car, which is where airbags can do their best work. Incidentally, that's why all airbags are known as "SRS", which stands for Supplemental Restraint System, i.e.

supplemental to the seatbelt. Nowadays, very few people would be stupid enough to drive without a seat belt, and even fewer would be stupid enough to deactivate the airbags. However, some drivers, often men and young people in faster cars, routinely disable stability control when driving on public roads. This latter power reduction feature probably saves many lives.

The power reduction is done by the engine control module, a computer. Now, computers are not the smartest things in the world, although we like to think they are. When I see that my students have turned off the stability control, I ask them to turn it back on and explain how and why it helps them. I don't plan to do many driving courses this year, so I might add 15 or 20 names to that list.

When the traction control button is pressed, the traction control is partially deactivated, but the stability control will still be active (which can also reduce power, apply braking). In these circumstances, usually on a country road where the gradients are steeper than on a motorway, the traction control may overreact so much that it actually stops the vehicle. When I pressed him on the circumstances, he admitted that he had turned off the traction control to save half a second of his lap time. I don't keep track of this figure as obsessively as I do the total number of races or different circuits I've driven, but after doing a late-night spreadsheet, I'm reasonably certain that I've now coached over 500 novice drivers on some kind of circuit.

If I ran Jeep, I'd set the Wranglers so that all systems would re-engage when the speedometer hit 25mph, just as many Porsches silently reactivate their stability control systems when the ABS is activated. Various names include: VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), ASC (Active Stability Control) DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), ESP (Electronic Stability Program). Admittedly, some of the early traction and stability controls, such as the ASC T fitted to the Bimmers of the 1990s, can be a little overactive and clumsy. Let's call them the three horsemen of the early track day apocalypse, as many BMW M or Corvette drivers have experienced.

Over the past 18 years I have seen hundreds of my track students turn off traction or stability control as soon as they get in their cars. To disengage both TCS and StabiliTrak, you hold down the button (the one on the car with the wavy lines) on the centre console until the TC and traction control lights illuminate on the instrument cluster and the appropriate DIC message appears. Most truly experienced racers would love to have a first-class traction or stability system in their cars.

Georgia Wolley
Georgia Wolley

Subtly charming tv scholar. Proud social media expert. Lifelong beeraholic. Typical pop culture guru. Incurable social media fan. Total internet maven.