New ATA Chief Chris Spear Delivers State of Industry Address for Trucking

October 03, 2016 by Clarissa Hawes

In his first major speech since becoming president of the American Trucking Associations, Chris Spear touched on concerns about trade agreements, tax reform, infrastructure funding and excessive regulation.

Spear, who took over as the federation’s ninth chief in July, said Monday in Las Vegas that his priorities include supporting a mandate on electronic logging devices, or ELDs, while also advocating that the government require speed-limiting technology that restricts big-rig travel to 65 mph.

In the coming months, he said, the trade group will also pursue a revamp of federal hours-of-service rules.

Spear stressed that the trucking industry is “the backbone of our economy and a pillar of our nation’s security,” saying “the story of trucking is the story of America.” He mentioned personal memories of riding in the cab as his father hauled grain.

But truckers are increasingly subject to “a surge of new state requirements” regarding pay, technology, tolls and more, some of which Spear equated to extortion. Mandates on the industry are being issued “as if they were mere parking tickets,” he said.

“These policies are a disease. If not treated, they’ll spread to other states and wreak havoc on our industry’s ability to move freight seamlessly across the nation,” Spear said. “Trucking is already one of the most regulated and taxed industries in America. In the eyes of some elected officials, we look like a money-filled pinata.”

The ATA will continue to push back against jurisdictions that are imposing extra meal and rest break requirements on interstate drivers already limited by federal hours-of-service regulations, Spear said.

He also addressed worries that presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump might attempt to reopen or threaten the North American Free Trade Agreement — which “could have dire repercussions on our industry,” he said. And refusal to adopt the Trans-Pacific Partnership could push Asian trading customers toward Chinese competitors.

“Trade and trucking are synonymous,” Spear said. “America relies on free trade, and trucking is key.”

Gridlock in Congress is also a concern as “sound public policies such as funding our nation’s infrastructure are being suffocated by a bunch of cubicle-dwelling ideologues,” he said.

In his address, Spear also stressed that members of his organization must keep abreast of autonomous vehicle and truck platooning innovation — a field he said is currently dominated by automakers.

The trucking industry loses $49.6 billion each year to congestion, he said; investing in the new technology “has the potential to get trucks moving, reduce fuel burn and emissions, and increase miles driven.”

“The trucking industry cannot afford to concede an entire regulatory framework to another mode of transportation, especially one that we’ll ultimately inherit,” Spear said.

The trade group will also spend the next year tackling issues such as sleep apnea, the lack of available truck parking and the development of a national clearinghouse for drug and alcohol testing.

Spear’s predecessor, Bill Graves, served as ATA’s president and chief executive for more than 13 years. Spear himself was senior vice president of legislative affairs for the group from May 2014 until October 2015. In the interim, he was Hyundai Motor Co.’s vice president of government affairs.

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