Though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) plans to widen testing of electronic control braking systems (ECBS) in the near future, don't expect any rulemaking aimed at mandating such systems on trucks any time soon. "We still have a lot of testing ahead of us," said Duane Perrin, NHTSA chief of heavy vehicle research.
While ECBS is offered on truck trailers in Europe, it isn't an available option right now in the United States. Perrin said NHTSA has been conducting extensive laboratory and test track tests of ECBS since 1997, and will continue testing through next year. Field tests using 50 Volvo tractors owned by truckload carrier US Xpress are under- way, and will go through 2003.
The agency also wants to conduct larger fleet tests with thousands of trucks between 2002 and 2005, but that will be subject to available funding, Perrin said.
"Our interest in ECBS is to improve vehicle braking performance, including compatibility with older and newer equipment, and find out what happens to the brakes if something in the ECBS doesn't work right," he said.
Perrin added that this is new territory for NHTSA because the agency hasn't worked with complex electronics like this before, especially when it comes to failure analysis. "We've dealt with simple failure testing, such as how brakes work if an air line hose connection breaks," Perrin said. "With electronics, however, you can't get inside a chip and unhook a hose."