American Trucking Associations’ Chief Executive Chris Spear presented his annual State of the Industry address at the trade group’s annual Management Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Fla., on Monday. He spoke about contentious trucking industry issues, including California’s regulation of trucks and the federal mandate directing truckers to digitally track their driving using electronic logging devices. What follows is an edited version of his speech.
Spear started this section by referencing the ATA’s successful lobbying to improve hours of service rules for truckers.
This win serves as a reminder to each of us, the sheer strength of this association when we work together.
ATA and its coalition partners are looking to continue this winning streak by sending a strong message to policy makers in Sacramento … this is not the United States of California. The [Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act] issue involves the state’s duplicative meal and rest breaks that collide with federal safety standards, causing drivers to park their equipment in undesignated places, endangering themselves and the motoring public. This confusion has generated a litigious frenzy. Over $250 million in settlements to date and immeasurable exposure in pending and potential litigation. Apparently, California’s lawmakers care more about the plaintiffs’ bar than public safety, or even jobs. This is an issue we have to win, and we will … it’ll happen by working with Congress and this administration, continuing to invest over $9.5 billion each year in safety technologies and giving a voice to the 7.4 million employees in trucking jobs throughout the nation … not by lining the pockets of trial attorneys.
ATA is now fully engaged in reforming our country’s decaying tax laws. Two weeks ago, ATA hosted President Trump in Harrisburg, Pa. There he announced his much-anticipated tax reform plan, which emphasized one very special benefactor … trucking. Citing truckers as “the barometer for the nation’s economy,” the president shared a detailed proposal, entitled the “American model.” It includes a corporate tax rate reduction to 20 percent, cutting a third of what our industry currently pays, and it eliminates the dreaded estate tax, also known as the death tax. That’s your money. It belongs to you. And with it, you will be empowered to invest more in your employees, your equipment and the future growth of your businesses. The president’s plan is historic and conventional … lowering the rate and broadening the base. And he illustrated what his tax plan will actually mean to our industry, citing the personal experiences of our own ATA chairman, Kevin Burch, and ATA member Calvin Ewell. Once again, ATA put its own members in a position to shape public policy at the highest level. And with the president now championing our best interests, the entire nation is paying attention to what we have to say.
North American Free Trade Agreement
ATA is now supporting the U.S. Chamber-led coalition to advocate and advance sound trade policy. Trucks move 76 percent of the NAFTA surface freight, 82 percent of the cross-border traffic with Mexico and 71 percent with Canada, our nation’s largest trade partner. I’ve visited our borders and can tell you first hand that our industry will be the first to feel any changes in NAFTA, good or bad. Together, ATA and its Mexican and Canadian counterparts, CANACAR and CTA, have come together to help our respective nations preserve and promote policies that benefit our industry, our customers and the United States’ ability to grow its economy.
Last year, we shined a spotlight on technology, most notably … autonomous technology. We wasted no time taking our seat at the table, securing a coveted slot on the Federal Advisory Committee on Autonomous Technology and testifying on Capitol Hill. We hired one of the most prominent experts in this field, formed a new ATA autonomous vehicle subcommittee, joined the Safety Spectrum Coalition, and we’re working closer than ever with the Technology & Maintenance Council to help our members shape a policy framework that is good for our drivers and for our industry. We cannot afford to concede this issue to another mode of transportation. Innovation is happening whether we like it or not. Conforming innovation to the benefit of our industry and our drivers is key, and with your help and support, ATA is better positioned to steer such outcomes than it was just one year ago. And this future framework will soon have a solid foundation.
Electronic logging device rule
Come Dec. 18, the Electronic Logging Device rule will take effect. Congress first passed this legislation five years ago, and twice more in 2015 … each time instructing the FMCSA to complete a rule. And thanks to a full court press by ATA and its members, the House last month defeated yet another attempt by ELD opponents to delay the December effective date. This issue has been legislated, promulgated and litigated. And it is now time to move forward. ELD technology removes one’s ability to exceed the legal hours of service … ushering in a safe, efficient and fair playing field for the nation's trucking industry.
ATA is also advocating policies that benefit members like you, including: association health plans; universal recognition of security credentials; common sense policies that lower carbon emissions from our equipment; eliminating redundant drug testing requirements and improving drug screening; improving driver training; and, removing government barriers so that cars, trucks and infrastructure can connect … dramatically reducing congestion, fatigue, accidents and fatalities. And as we have also demonstrated, ATA will aggressively call out federal policies that fall short of their intended goals, such as joint agency rules to require speed limiters on commercial vehicles only, and rigid test standards for sleep apnea.
Year after year, we read about the growing shortage of drivers and technicians. Moments ago, the American Trucking Research Institute released its latest annual issue survey, which places driver shortage as the new No. 1 ranked priority. Currently, our industry is short 50,000 drivers. And if the trends continue, that number will double to 100,000 in just five years. During the next decade, our industry will need to hire nearly 1 million drivers and technicians just to meet economic demands. With an average salary of $56,000 for drivers and $50,000 for technicians, employer health insurance and more than 90 percent of employers providing retirement and other benefits, including life insurance and paid holidays, one would think this is a pretty attractive industry for individuals without a college degree. Based on the numbers, it is. But our industry faces several barriers that must be addressed if we’re to grow, including: establishing pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training programs, and hiring and training 18 to 21 year olds. We need interstate recognition of credentials, entry-level training standards for veterans and nonveteran employees, solutions for the impact of detention time and congestion on drivers’ Hours of Service, and more.
The ATA and unity.
Unity … it makes us strong. It gives us a powerful, more amplified voice…. And that will only continue if we come together.
Our industry, our 84-year-old association, is at its best when we’re working together. We invest more in safety, training, in our environment, our communities and in our nation’s roads and bridges than most anyone. We live and work in every state and in every congressional district. Our kids grow up and attend schools from Maine to Maui. We worship, we pray and we work hard. We represent an industry of 7.4 million employees. One in 16 jobs in the United States is trucking related, where trucking is the top job in 29 states. Trucks move 70 percent of the domestic freight tonnage and more than $10 trillion of America’s freight each year. We are caring and compassionate … from charitable giving and volunteering time … to serving on the front lines whenever disaster strikes. We are among the most patriotic people in America. And united, we are the most powerful voice of our industry, best-positioned to tell our story and advance our agenda than any other advocacy group in the country.
To build trucking’s future, we need to look beyond the hood. We need to stop talking about problems and start addressing them.