Electronic stability control, a feature on one of every three new vehicles sold in Europe, has yet to catch on among drivers in America, where it is available on just 6% of new vehicles, Associated Press (AP) reported. Many US vehicle owners have never heard of it, and that has prompted suppliers to stage an eight-city tour beginning in Washington on Wednesday, the report added.

AP said that suppliers of stability control systems say they hope consumer demand, not government mandates, will persuade car makers to overcome their well-known aversion to added costs and offer the system on more vehicles.

According to AP, stability control was developed in Germany by Bosch and Mercedes-Benz and started appearing on luxury vehicles in the mid-1990s. In 1999, Mercedes was the first to make it standard in all its vehicles.

According to a study of German government data released last year by DaimlerChrysler AG, accident rates for Mercedes vehicles in Germany fell by 29% between 1999 and 2000 after stability control became standard, AP said, adding that, spurred by such data, Europe has adopted stability control much faster than the United States.

"In Europe, you have a much more sophisticated consumer that's much more in tune with safety technology, so they are driving it from a consumer demand standpoint," Bill Kozyra, president of US operations for Continental Teves, which markets electronic stability control, told AP.

The news agency said some US vehicle makers have quietly responded to European demand. In Germany, stability control is standard on a three-door Ford Focus while, in England, stability control is a $1,220 option on the same vehicle and, in the US, it's a $1,625 option.

Todd Brown, manager of North American brake control products at Ford, told AP that Ford is simply responding to market demands but he acknowledged that car makers could do a better job of marketing the technology to US buyers.

AP said the federal government could step in and require it, but that's not likely because National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesman Tim Hurd said there is too little US data to determine its effectiveness.

AP noted that NHTSA chief Dr. Jeffrey Runge, who will attend Wednesday's event, told a Senate committee this year that he believes car makers will voluntarily add stability control once NHTSA begins a new kind of crash test, expected to begin next year, that will measure vehicle performance in sharp turns.