The Week's Features
MDOT holds media event highlighting first responder safety
Creativity and eccentricity are the themes of this unit
Are you holding your own against the industry changes?
Towman gets ’em to the church on time
Capacities of 16-20,000 lbs. allow lifts to service most trucks
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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingNovember 14 - November 20, 2018

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Independence, MO
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Light-Duty nonconsensual tow rates as provided by Police Towers of America.

Autonomous Vehicles

new b88c4By Don G. Archer

Autonomous vehicles are an emerging technology that's sure to have an enormous impact on not only the safety of the traveling public, but the towing industry as well. Google's self-driving cars have logged more than 2 million miles in the last six years. Tesla's semi-autonomous cars, Autopilot, have traveled more than 222 million miles.

Although it seems like autonomous cars will be here before you know it, there have been a few setbacks. The first-ever AV traffic fatality was last May, and Uber just suspended its autonomous tests in Arizona after an accident in March.

Technology, however, keeps marching forward.

Tesla just announced that all of their cars will be equipped with self-driving capabilities. The onboard software will be updatable just like your cellphone, so you'll always have the latest technology. Volvo is dedicated to placing a fully autonomous vehicle on the road by the end of this year; one so autonomous you could stream HDTV and watch television while the car drives. In addition, Honda just announced that it will have self-driving vehicles on the road by 2020.

Tesla claims that their technology will play a crucial role in improving safety, stating that, "full autonomy will enable a Tesla to be substantially safer than a human driver."

With eight onboard cameras and 360 degrees of visibility at up to 250 meters (0.15 miles), and 12 ultrasonic sensors, a radar system with the ability to see through fog, dust, and the car in front of you—what could go wrong?

With all those moving parts? A lot.

Out of concern for the safety of the traveling public with regard to the dangers associated with AVs but with an eye on the possibilities of curtailing and maybe even eliminating traffic fatalities altogether, the U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. The policy details a 15-point safety assessment for manufacturers that includes:

• Data recording and sharing.
• Privacy.
• System safety.
• Vehicle cybersecurity.
• Human-machine interface.
• Crashworthiness.
• Consumer education and training.
• Registration and certification.
• Post-crash behavior.
• Federal, state and local laws.
• Ethical considerations.
• Operational design domain.
• Object and event detection and response.
• Fall back (minimal risk condition).
• Validation methods.

The assessment covers concerns such as where the vehicle is designed to operate, what happens if a sensor fails and consumer training. They're doing everything that government does to ensure the safety of the public; but they're also gumming up the works.

While the USDOT has issued a federal policy governing autonomous vehicles, they are leaving the oversight of licensing, traffic laws and enforcement to the individual states. States should maintain as much autonomy as possible; but there may be a few conflicts of interest down the road.

All city and state governments make money when drivers do dumb things. The Los Angeles Times reports that if you're caught driving under the influence in California, you can be fined more than $15,000, and, on average, cities in California annually bring in about $40 million from towing fees.

What happens when that revenue stream dries up? Will state and local governments choose revenue over safety, enacting laws that bar the use of autonomous vehicles? In response to an inevitable shortfall, will your taxes go up? Or will the need for support from law enforcement and other emergency responders diminish accordingly, allowing municipalities to make cuts?

In response to Tesla's first autonomous vehicle death, Founder Elon Musk had to brief the U.S. Senate committee that oversees auto safety issues. Musk had to defend himself against the likes of Consumer Reports and others explaining that, "the autopilot function was not enabled at the time of the crash," and that, "more than 130 million miles had been driven by their customers, resulting in one death per 130 million miles; but among all vehicles in the U.S., there is a fatality every 94 million miles."

Many believe that with time, competition and improvements, autonomous vehicles will result in fewer traffic accidents.

As a tow company owner this may seem like bad news, but there is a bright side.

With safety and an eye on remaining solvent top on the list for lawmakers, there's no doubt that there will be more government oversight. Sensors will fail and cameras will break giving reason enough to enact legislation. One possible scenario is that, when AVs have even the slightest problems, these issues will be regarded as system failures and a hazard to other motorists; requiring law enforcement to be notified and the vehicle to shut down after proceeding to the closest safe place.

The vehicle will then need to be towed and, as with any other code violation, the occupant/vehicle owner will be issued a citation.

American Towman Field Editor-Midwest Don G. Archer is also a multi-published author, educator and speaker helping others to build and start successful towing businesses around the country at Don and his wife, Brenda, formerly owned and operated Broadway Wrecker in Jefferson City, Mo. E-mail him direct at

Market Disruption: Are You Ready?

disruption 0fdb3By Brian J Riker

Market disruption is defined as a rapid change in market performance, usually due to external forces or a new entrant with a radically different way of doing business.

It has already begun in the towing industry with the increase of towing apps that function as dispatching services and other third-party intermediaries that now control a significant portion of the towing market. Gone are the days where a half-page ad in the phone book with an easy to remember phone number were all you needed to market your company.

What have you done to prepare for the days when it is not business as usual? Are you prepared for when the cash calls stop coming in directly to your call center and the majority of your work is routed through a third party? What would happen if you lost your police towing contract tomorrow?

These are difficult questions, yet they must be answered.

These questions lead to some of the reasons why it is vitally important to be active in your industry. Being active positions you to be in a much better place for success. Being active in your state and national associations will keep you up to date with potential issues as they arise. Being legislatively active will allow you to influence decisions that will change your way of doing business. Trade show attendance will allow you to network with towers from around the world and identify potential issues during their infancy.

Perhaps through these activities you will even help create regulations that will prevent some of the less favorable disruptions from occurring, or at least minimize their impact.

Disruptions in our industry are not new; in fact many disruptive technologies that were once fought have become commonplace today. The wheel lift and hydraulic wreckers were viewed as unnecessary expenses by many towers in the 70's; yet today they are indispensable. I believe the more technologically-advanced towers, those that embrace modern techniques, will be in a much better position to thrive in the coming years.

The industry is in a transition phase where our customers and our team have different needs, wants and ideas than they did a few years ago. Today is all about convivence and simplicity. Make it easy for someone to engage you using a smart phone, and they are more likely to use your service than if they have to make a phone call to your dispatch center.

So, how do you become a market disruptor? Offer new and innovative ways for your customers and potential customers to engage with your brand. Think beyond social media and traditional advertising. It sounds difficult, but really it is not.

Look around the communities you service and see where there are underserved markets. These areas are ripe with opportunities to dominate. Perhaps there are clients that need lower end services, just the basics that can be provided at a lower price point while maintaining profitability.

Maybe there are high end clients that are not getting the "white glove" treatment they desire. These clients will typically pay a hefty premium to have the perception of importance combined with service excellence.

If your competition doesn't have a professional call center, you can excel simply by having the best call takers, maybe even use novel methods such as text message communication. There are already many apps on the market that allow for this type of interaction, even going as far as providing the customer with real time tracking of the dispatched tow truck.

Innovation and disruption also occurs behind the scenes. Do you have the latest software and task automation? Not only can this make your company more efficient, which translates into greater profits, but it also can make offering technology solutions such as vehicle tracking, automated payment and electronic invoicing simple.
Being prepared for innovation rather than resisting it places you in a better position to serve the changing needs of your clients.

Safety can be innovative too! Look at the recent advancements in flexible low-voltage lighting used in safety garments, the explosion of high quality cameras used to protect many drivers and owners or the automated technology used to monitor and report safety critical events.

Some compliance assurance software programs can automatically assign training based on a team member's unique responsibilities or deficient areas. Proactive fleets are using these technologies to their advantage to reduce claims, provide remedial coaching and reduce overall cost of goods sold, again leading to greater profits even in the face of reduced gross revenues.

Bottom line, be prepared to adapt and overcome or be prepared to be replaced by those that do.

Brian J Riker is a third generation towman and President of Fleet Compliance Solutions, LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at
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