Autonomous vehicles are a hotbed subject in our industry, as they should be. They potentially affect everyone, even non-drivers, and certainly tire dealers.

To some, it is just the next step in the evolution of transportation.

And to others, a world of vehicles without drivers is just crazy talk! Heck, even in “The Jetsons” people were behind joysticks in their “flying cars!” (And there is such a thing as a flying car: Check out the Terrafugia Transition from Terrafugia Inc.)

But it isn’t crazy talk, and autonomous vehicles are already in limited use. Both vehicle and tire manufacturers are investing a lot of money in research and development in preparation for their mass production.

The question everybody asks is, “When will they be more than a niche mode of transportation and ready for highway use? Richard Smallwood, CEO and president of Sumitomo Rubber North America Inc., thinks it will be sooner rather than later. I think it will be later rather than sooner.

Another popular question is, “Why do we need an autonomous vehicle?” The initial response is “to improve road safety.”

But it isn’t often that someone lists the number of obstacles standing in the way of their use. Mike Antich, editor of Modern Tire Dealer’s sister publication, Automotive Fleet, recently tackled that topic.

His perspective, of course, is centered on fleets. “Conceptually, autonomous vehicles are technologically feasible, but, as they say, the devil is in the details,” he wrote. “One thing is certain, as we trail blaze new ground, so too will we trail blaze new problems.”

Here is Antich’s list of 12 obstacles that need to be hurdled before the autonomous vehicle becomes commonplace among fleets. The list is just as thought-provoking for people in our industry.

  • Recognition of hand gestures. “Autonomous vehicles find it difficult to decipher the meaning of hand gestures by a driver or pedestrian giving it the right of way. Conversely, an AV runs the risk of misinterpreting a causal hand motion and erroneously determining it has been given the right of way. (As for finger gestures, let’s hope AVs never learn about road rage. – B.O.B.)
  • Difficulty driving in snow. “AVs are programed to recognize various road landmarks, such as lane dividers, turning only lanes, or when two lanes merge into a single lane. But when covered by snow, these road markings are obscured or hidden. Similarly, when snow or road grime covers vehicle sensors, it “blinds” an AV to its surroundings impeding autonomous navigation.”
  • Driving through standing water or a flooded street. “Similar to the issues encountered when driving in snow, standing water likewise obscures road markings impeding AV travel.
  • Inability of AVs to effectively communicate with human-controlled vehicles. “There will be a long transition period when AVs share the road with human-controlled vehicles. This will create a period of incongruity. For instance, a vehicle horn is used as a communication device providing a cautionary warning. Can an autonomous vehicle hear a horn? What about the colloquial rules of the road?”
  • Decades needed to develop case. "AVs will necessitate the creation of an entirely new body of case law that will take decades to adjudicate legal precedents. It is generally accepted that if an AV is forced to make a choice between hurting a single person versus many individuals, the AV will be programmed to take the course of least damage. (Based on current law), could a lawyer representing the aggrieved family argue premediated manslaughter -- or even second degree murder --because the AV was programmed to intentionally hit a person?"
  • Personal privacy concerns. “AVs will be tracked every moment of the day. As vehicle data is collected, so will data about the occupants, such as when and where they are driven. How will the privacy of vehicle occupants be protected?”
  • Higher acquisition costs. “AVs will be more expensive than the traditional driver-operated vehicle, which will impact a fleet’s total cost of ownership.”
  • Taxing AVs. “If AVs strictly adhere to posted speed limits and parking restrictions, what will be the impact on government budgets from the subsequent reduction in traffic and parking fines? In a mid-size city, such as Seattle, traffic fines constitute 2.6% of the city’s operating fund. One idea floated by government officials is to mitigate this revenue loss by instituting an AV registration tax.”
  • Impact on organ donations. "The No. 1 source of organ donations is young people who died in traffic accidents. With widespread AV usage, will there be a decrease in organ availability?”
  • Inadequacy of 5G network in an autonomous vehicle network. “Fifth generation wireless systems, abbreviated 5G, are improved networks that will deploy in 2019. Although 5G is very powerful, there are concerns widespread use of AVs will make it inadequate in providing robust communication.”
  • Electromagnetic disruptions to GPS transmissions. “Solar storms are unpredictable and rare, but when they do occur, they erupt vast amounts of energy that can cause a massive spike in geomagnetic activity and radiation, which can interfere with the data connection between a vehicle’s onboard GPS system and the satellites that transmit location data. Electro-magnetic disruptions have caused flights to be diverted to alternate routes.”
  • Cybersecurity threats. “This is a real concern that will eventually result in deaths and triggers a pendulum reaction from regulatory and government agencies. Based on past history, cybersecurity is often reactionary and vulnerable to zero-day cyber-attacks.”

I found Antich’s additional comments on higher acquisition costs to be especially pertinent to our industry. In particular: “It is generally accepted that AVs will accumulate higher mileages since potentially they can be used in a 24/7 environment, which will have a direct influence on vehicle condition at the end of its service life.”

Many of his obstacles -- the need for “an entirely new body of case law” really hits home to me -- are reasons why I believe AVs will not be using our interstate highway system anytime soon. But one day they will.

Antich’s full editorial can be found here. And for more Modern Tire Dealer insight on the topic, check out these links:

"Tire Development Considerations for Autonomous Vehicles."

"Are Autonomous Vehicles Ready for a Grand Entrance? No. Well, Maybe."

"Our Need for Speed: It Will Take Time for Autonomous Vehicles to Take Over."

"3 Ways Self-Driving Vehicles Will Change the Future of Tire Retailing."


Bob Ulrich
Bob Ulrich

Editor, Retired

Editor Bob Ulrich has earned a reputation as an industry expert thanks to his insightful, in-depth articles and blogs on the tire industry. Before joining Modern Tire Dealer in 1985, Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University. Also, he graduated from the University of Akron School of Law with a J.D.

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Editor Bob Ulrich has earned a reputation as an industry expert thanks to his insightful, in-depth articles and blogs on the tire industry. Before joining Modern Tire Dealer in 1985, Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University. Also, he graduated from the University of Akron School of Law with a J.D.

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