A government study has found that stability control systems can reduce vehicle accidents, a result safety advocates reportedly hope will persuade car makers to make the systems standard in all vehicles.

Electronic stability control systems are currently available on about 10% of the vehicles sold in the United States and one-third of the vehicles sold in Europe, the Associated Press (AP) said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found stability control reduced one-car crashes by 35% when compared to the same models sold in prior years without the technology, AP noted.

NHTSA reportedly said the results were even more dramatic with sport utility vehicles, which are more likely to tip over when a driver overcorrects after leaving the road. Stability control reduced single-vehicle SUV crashes by 67%.

The study said electronic stability control appears to help drivers because it can sense the kind of driving that often precedes an accident and intervene to help the driver. But NHTSA stressed the results were preliminary, and said it would do further study to determine if design changes, driving conditions or other factors may have affected their performance. NHTSA also wants to study stability control in a wider cross-section of vehicles, including non-luxury vehicles, which will likely take another two years, AP added.

The Associated Press noted that some safety advocates have expressed frustration with NHTSA's slow pace on stability control. The agency got a prodding last year from the National Transportation Safety Board, which recommended NHTSA expand its evaluation of stability control after a rollover accident that killed five people in Maryland.

David Pittle, senior vice president of Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, told the news agency the study echoes what his organisation has seen in vehicle tests. Pittle said he would like automakers to make the equipment standard on their own instead of waiting for NHTSA to mandate it.

"This is not a luxury add-on. This is an essential safety feature," Pittle told AP.

For the study, NHTSA examined crash data from 1997 to 2003 in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri and Utah, AP said. Those states were chosen because they have very detailed records. The majority of the passenger car samples were Mercedes-Benz and BMW models, since stability control was standard on Mercedes vehicles by 2000 and on BMW vehicles by 2001. Many luxury General Motors models also had the technology, NHTSA reportedly said. Among SUVs, Mercedes, Toyota and Lexus vehicles made up the largest part of the sample.

According to the Associated Press, the results mirrored studies in Europe and Japan. A study of German government data released in 2002 by DaimlerChrysler showed accident rates for Mercedes vehicles in Germany fell by 29% between 1999 and 2000 after stability control became standard.