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

Bob Ulrich
Posted on April 11, 2018

There is one major reason autonomous vehicles will not take over our nation’s highways, as opposed to our roadways, in the foreseeable future: the need for speed. There are too many people who get their thrill on by going fast.

Why do millions of people ride roller coasters every year? Or watch racing (NASCAR’s problems notwithstanding)? Or get speeding tickets? The need for speed. Whether it’s based on physical excitement or impatience, people want to go fast.

The autonomous vehicle, often abbreviated as either AV or SDC (self-driving car), is all about the opposite of going fast. In order for driverless vehicles to catch on with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), they will have to be safe, and the more speed at which they travel, the greater the chance for an accident.

According to NHTSA statistics, speeding has been involved in approximately one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities for more than two decades.

“In 2016, speeding was a contributing factor in 27% of all fatal crashes,” said NHTSA.

The idea of autonomous vehicles is not a bad one. They are good for heavily congested urban areas like New York City or Los Angeles, and areas with low speed limits, like Main Street USA. And I think millennials will embrace the concept once the technology is perfected.

That may take awhile, however. A woman in Tempe, Ariz., was recently killed by an autonomous Uber — with someone sitting in the driver’s seat, no less. I’m sure that death sent shock waves through the autonomous vehicle community, and may have set back widespread acceptance of autonomous vehicles many years.

Waymo LLC, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc. (so you know it has the financial backing to succeed), launched autonomous vehicles in Phoenix last year. It claims they have driven more than 5 million autonomous miles in numerous cities across the country, “largely on complex city streets.” That is in addition to billions of simulated miles, 2.7 billion in 2017 alone.

So you may be closer to having an autonomous vehicle in your service bay than you think. And I hope you will be ready to service it. Smithers Rapra Inc. says electronic systems and sensors will play a much more important role in the decision-making of an autonomous vehicle than in a vehicle managed by a driver. In addition, autonomous vehicles will be managed through artificial intelligence (AI).

The vehicles will still have tires, but their construction “will depend more heavily on the design of the vehicle.” That might take speed ratings out of the equation, and I’m sure that won’t be viewed as a good thing by all consumers. Speed ratings may not directly apply to traditional high and ultra-high performance tire definitions anymore, but they still apply to handling. It’s not always about the need to go fast, but the need to go faster.

Actual highway driving is a different matter. Will driverless vehicles integrate into normal traffic? Will drivers accept being stuck behind slower autonomous vehicles?

I don’t think so, at least in the near-term. Perhaps city and state governments could replace the HOV (carpool) lanes with autonomous vehicle lanes. But until they can go with the flow of traffic, driverless vehicles will have a hard time hitting the highways.

Also, autonomous vehicles will have to be legalized first, then made safe almost beyond measure before they are certified for highway driving. Ours is a litigious society, and it’s easy to imagine a company going out of business because of a fatality or two.

AV’s are in the testing stage at this point. People think technology always moves forward, but sometimes it moves sideways for a while.

That is especially true where AI is concerned. AI gets a bad rap, because in every science fiction movie that features it, bad things happen. Remember 2001: A Space Odyssey? If H.A.L. 9000 is driving your vehicle, who knows what could happen?

But if a computer can calculate an almost infinite number of possible outcomes when faced with any untenable situation, plus react appropriately, who’s to say it isn’t a better way? This bodes well for the eventual adoption of autonomous highway driving.

Still, you have to be pretty trusting to give up total control of your vehicle. There’s a reason a lot of people would rather drive than fly. Like the need for speed, control may be innate, too.

My guess is that eventually, artificial intelligence will embrace the need for speed, too. ■

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at

To read more of Bob Ulrich's editorials, see:

Women and Repeat Business: Make Sure you Shake Gender zbias Once and For All

Legislative Issues in 2018: Here are the Top 5, Healthcare Among Them

It Is Your Business: Don't be Apolitical When it Comes to President Trump

MTD's 25th Tire Dealer of the Year Winners Fit the Profile

Related Topics: Bob Ulrich, Bob Ulrich editorial, Editorial

Bob Ulrich Editor
Comments ( 0 )
More Stories

Jiffy Lube Franchisee Building Its 30th Store

A franchisee of Jiffy Lube International Inc. locations is in the midst of a major growth spurt. SRE Group recently opened its 29th Jiffy Lube location, and has two more stores that are expected to open in Nevada by the end of 2018. And yes, the group is selling tires.  


Dennis McCarron: Reach ‘Younger’ to Find Technician Talent

Due to the boom of the internet, social media, and web 2.0, you are competing for the talents with every single other employer out there regardless of industry. What can be done to make sure a young, energized, and ambitious mechanically inclined young adult ends up working on cars?

On Oct. 15 Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Sears Has Filed for Bankruptcy

Sears Holdings Corp. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company will close another 142 stores by the end of the year, and CEO and Chairman Edward Lampert will step down as CEO.

Hiring someone who will give the customer the best experience will allow you the room to charge a fair price.

Why It's Important to Hire What You Can't Teach

What really separates you from the competitor down the street is the people in your building. And it’s not what they know. It’s the things you can’t teach. Do they care? Do they listen? Do they act like they want to make things right?


Pep Boys Acquires a Store in Connecticut

The owners of Precision Motors, an independent auto repair and tire store in Mystic, Conn., have retired and sold their business to Icahn Automotive Group.

Be the First to Know

Get the latest news and most popular articles from MTD delivered straight to your inbox. Stay on top of the tire industry and don't miss a thing!