NTRC brake test facility could make highways safer

March 27, 2000

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., March 27, 2000 - A first-of-its-kind facility for testing brakes of commercial trucks could help put a screeching halt to hundreds of accidents caused by mechanical failures.

The facility will be housed in the National Transportation Research Center, a collaborative effort by the Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the University of Tennessee and the Development Corporation of Knox County. It is expected to open this summer.

"Faulty brakes contribute to about one third of truck-caused crashes," said Scott Stevens, who heads the project and is a researcher in ORNL's Energy Division. "The problem is that current methods of inspecting brakes are labor- and time-intensive and subject to considerable error."

Compounding the problem, as electronic brake systems are developed, new test equipment will be required to accurately measure and evaluate their performance. The proposed brake testing facility will be capable of characterizing the brake performance of an entire vehicle quickly and accurately.

The new device, being developed jointly with Jeff Hodgson of UT, will also simultaneously and accurately weigh every axle of the vehicle. It works by measuring the forces exerted on a supporting structure by the tires of a vehicle. The device consists of a group of plates with attached sensing devices that can support the entire vehicle.

"Our device can support a vehicle as it comes to a stop and measure deceleration and braking force at each wheel group at the same time," Stevens said. "It will be attached to a computer and results could be printed for state vehicle inspection officers or the driver, or they could be delivered electronically to agency officials or trucking company safety representatives."

Like the system Stevens and collaborators developed to prevent truck rollovers, the thrust of this project is to make highways safer.

"Aside from the possibilities for commercial success, it's extremely gratifying to be part of an endeavor that will ultimately help people and save lives," Stevens said. "This project also fits nicely into DOE's mission to improve transportation efficiency and public safety."

Researchers at ORNL and UT are coordinating the design of the facility with officials at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In addition, ORNL and UT are working closely with the Tennessee Department of Safety to ensure that the prototype facility at the center can lead to a production system that can be used at inspection stations in Tennessee and across the nation.

"We're hoping this is just the beginning of a long-lasting partnership with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration as we work together to promote highway safety," Stevens said.

Directors of the $15 million National Transportation Research Center expect the facility to make major contributions to the field of transportation and, in particular, to advance the cause of highway safety. Industry, government and others around the country will be able to call upon the center for expertise in vehicle and engine testing, infrastructure materials, materials packaging, intelligent transportation systems, composite materials and geographic information systems.

ORNL is a DOE multiprogram research facility managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation.
(Photo available upon request)


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DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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