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Truckers feel threatened by automation and regulation, demand action from Indiana lawmakers

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Truck drivers from around the country stopped in Indianapolis and parked their trucks outside of the state capitol building Oct. 4 to bring attention to their issues with autonomous vehicles, along with safety measures they say are too expensive for small companies and drivers who work as contractors.

Members of Truckers United on 10-4 did the same thing in other cities. Drivers are concerned about federal bills that would increase the amount of insurance drivers are required to carry and mandate more technological safety measures, including automatic emergency braking and limiting speed to 65 miles an hour.

In Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb has made autonomous vehicles a legislative priority. A 2018 bill would have given an autonomous driving task group authority to approve self-driving cars, but legislators couldn’t pass it before the deadline. The bill wasn’t introduced in the 2019 session that ended in April.

Byron Alderman, from Mississippi, started driving trucks out of high school and has been doing it for about 10 years as a contractor. Part of what he’s worried about is the safety of other drivers on the road, especially highways.

“What happens if this truck going down the road at 65 miles an hour and blows a tire and doesn’t know which way to go?” he said. “Your family’s driving beside it, and you don’t want that to happen. A professional driver can counter steer.”

Drivers in Indianapolis brought with them some proposals for a bill that acknowledged some level of automation is inevitable. Those demands include still having a human on board who can activate an override or fail-safe system. They met with some legislators and aides.

Alderman, 28, is also concerned about his job security. A March study from the Government Accountability Office found most technology developers said they’ll have trucks that can travel without a driver for at least parts of a trip and that those trucks will be available in the next five to 10 years.

There appears to be a consensus from researchers that long-term job loss is inevitable, especially in long-haul trucking, but the extent of job loss isn’t clear.

Charles Claburn, national spokesman for the Truckers United on 10-4, said changes to the industry will disproportionately hurt contractors and small businesses but thinks it’s the big companies that actually need the oversight.

One example: In the 24-month period prior to Dec. 3, 2017, Swift Transportation was involved in 2,256 crashes that resulted in 657 injuries and 67 deaths, according to Fried Rogers Goldberg LLC, a firm that focuses on truck accidents.

Two recent crashes involving semis on the east side killed two people and two dogs. It isn’t clear what companies the drivers were with.

“The government always wants to try to regulate the people that are already doing the job safely instead of punishing the bad actors,” said Claburn, who’s been driving for 28 years and said he hasn’t been in any crashes.

Claburn, 49, said truckers are getting to the point now where they’re better organized.

“American people are starting to find their voice, right? Truckers are no different,” said Claburn, who is Alderman’s future father-in-law. “We’re gonna fight to protect this industry and protect our reputations and protect what we do.”

Claburn’s prediction: If drivers don’t feel like legislators are taking them seriously within the next year, plenty will go on strike and block the highways with their trucks. That would be just before the 2020 election.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

Byron Alderman, from Mississippi, was in Indianapolis Oct. 4 to bring awareness to issues truckers like him will face with advancing automation and safety requirements. He’s part of Truckers United on 10-4 and stood next to Paul Massett’s cab. Massett is from Ohio. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

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