Cover Story: Safer vehicle testing

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A push to make the cars we drive safer.  And to reduce the number of traffic deaths by thousands.  A group will be testing this new technology right here in Charlotte -- and it will be used across the world.  In our Cover Story, PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson introduces us to what some are calling the seatbelts of tomorrow.

How are they going to make our cars safer?  Put a computer device in the car that will keep it from losing control.. keep it from rolling over.  It's called electronic stability control and you're going to be hearing a lot about it in the future.

And the technology might very well be perfected here in Charlotte.

What it can do will blow your mind.

In this demonstration from Consumer Reports.. look at what happens when a driver makes a sharp turn and slams on the brakes.


Now watch.  The same car.. at the same speed.. but this time the car's electronic stability control kicks in.  Everything... a okay.

This week the Charlotte Regional Partnership.. a public private group that promotes economic development announced the formation of a company that plans to bring auto and tire manufacturers together to work as a group on research and development into tires.

Creating a first-of-its-kind tire testing facility in Charlotte.

A big part of their work initially will be with electronic stability control.. which in a sudden turn of the wheel keeps a car from flying out of control.. applying brakes to one or more wheels bringing it back into line.

Humpy Wheeler, former Lowe's Motor Speedway President says the biggest thing on stability control is tires.

He says, "It's really going to do more for auto safety probably than anything besides seat belts."

Starting in 2011.. the government's requiring every car made in the U.S. to come with stability control.. it's already in the higher-priced models now.

And it works-- preventing scenes like this.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration predicts electronic stability control will save up to 9,600 lives each year and prevent as many as 323,000 crashes.

Dr. Jim Cuttino, who've we've featured before.. director of the Motorsports and Automotive Research Center at UNC Charlotte will head up the tire-testing initiative.. a company that's being called Camber Ridge LLC and was born out of a need to work collaboratively on stability control.

He says, "With automotive companies trying to become leaner and meaner in this economy what we're doing is providing them a capability where they can acquire really meaningful tire data."

Organizers believe the tire-testing facility will benefit the auto racing industry and could wind up with an car maker locating here.

"The auto industry is moving south and we want North Carolina and Charlotte USA to be part of that movement," says Wheeler.

Organizers of the tire-testing initiative are working with several auto and tire manufacturers and are lining up financing.

A lot of the work will be computer based.. so they may not have to build a big expensive test track.

But they hope to be up and running by early 2012.