ATA President Spear Lists 5 Top Issues Facing Trucking Industry

August 20, 2018 by Alan Adler, @AlanAdler

Chris Spear, chief executive of the American Trucking Associations, is pushing an aggressive agenda that includes recruiting teenage truck drivers, a gas tax increase to fix roads and safety technology for greater trucking industry productivity.

In an interview with, Spear said federal regulations should allow interstate truck driving by people as young as 18 with proper training.

He cited a recent visit to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. On the captain’s deck watching flight operations, he heard the captain instruct the helmsman: “20-degree right rudder.” An 18-year-old female sailor complied. She was driving a $4-billion warship.

“I can’t think of a better example for our industry when we talk about allowing 18- to 21-year-olds behind the wheel” of heavy-duty trucks, Spear said. “You already have 48 states legally allowing an 18 year old to drive. They just can’t cross state lines. That works pretty well in Texas and California, but not so great in Rhode Island or Connecticut.”

And Spear said the ATA proposal would provide 400 hours of training, which states granting commercial driver’s licenses to teens do not offer.

Spear, entering his third year as ATA’s top executive, said that recruiting younger drivers is his top priority.  The average age of the trucking workforce is 49. Getting non-college-bound young people into truck cabs could help address a driver shortage the ATA pegs at 63,000 and growing.

“In many instances, you are making more in our industry in years one through five than you do coming out of college,” he said. “Letting us compete for the same talent as other industries is key.”

The recent approval of a pilot program allowing military veterans under 21 to drive across state lines “is a shining example. If we can train young talent to fight our wars, I’m convinced we can teach 18- to 21-year-olds to drive across state lines,” Spear said.

Bills have been introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. Spear said he thinks legislation could pass in 2019. Younger drivers could begin reducing the driver shortage in two or three years following action by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Spear, 48, joined the trucking association for a second time in 2016. He was senior vice president of legislative affairs in 2014-15. He has worked in government relations in the auto industry for Hyundai and in aerospace for Honeywell, where he also was vice president of emerging markets. He was an assistant labor secretary for policy under President George W. Bush and was deputy representative for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. He has worked on five continents.

A host of issues compete with the driver shortage for Spear’s attention. Here are four:


Trucking is booming. But a shortage of trucks and technicians to fix them is as chronic as the lack of drivers. The capacity crunch is raising load prices. That’s good in the short term. But unless the industry can become more efficient, it risks losing business to other transportation modes.

“All the key ingredients we’re seeing are saying this is at minimum a three-year trend,” Spear said. “We have entered into a period of the best conditions trucking has ever experienced.”

Laws restricting trailer length and weight hamper sustained growth.  Those laws have not changed in more than 35 years.

“We have not changed productivity laws on length since 1982,” Spear said. “Equipment and laws are not keeping pace with the growth of the economy. Something’s got to give.”

Regulations like the hours-of-service rule that restricts drivers to 11 hours behind the wheel in a 14-hour period need to be modified, Spear said.

Enforcement of a rule enacted last year that requires truckers to track their driving hours via digital electronic logging devices is forcing better compliance with the hours-of-service rule. Shippers are paying attention to an inefficient practice the industry calls detention time.

“They know they can’t move that freight if a driver is sitting for three, four or five hours waiting for a load,” Spear said. “They are running out of hours.”


Spear said he thinks a $1-trillion federal infrastructure spending plan proposed by President Trump will pass in 2019. He believes a 20-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase over four years that would raise $340 billion will be included. He defends higher fuel taxes as the most efficient way to pay for road and bridge upkeep.

“The fuel tax continues to be the most conservative, immediate and efficient way to fund infrastructure,” he said. “Less than one penny on the dollar goes to administration.” Toll roads, by contrast, can cost up to 35 cents on the dollar collected to administer, he said.

He said trucking pays half the tab for the federal Highway Trust Fund. The fund began in the Eisenhower administration and helped pay for the nation’s freeway system. Without new money or continued diversion of funds from other areas, the trust fund will go broke in 2020, Spear said.

The ATA opposes a measure on the November ballot in California that would repeal $5.2 billion in higher gas and diesel taxes to be used for infrastructure signed into law last year.

Safety Technology

Spear wants trucking to work with the auto industry to leverage its head start in safety technology.

“I think there are solutions out there with our partners in the auto industry that could solve a lot of problems,” he said. “This is a driver-assist environment, and I’m not willing to concede that space to the passenger vehicle industry. We need to be hand in glove with them, and they want that too.”

For example, connected vehicle technology that allows cars to talk with other cars and roadway infrastructure to avoid potential crashes and congestion is valuable to trucks. The federal government earmarked seven bands of a radio frequency for use by connected vehicles. Spear thinks trucks should have access to them.

Peloton Technologies, which is testing truck platooning — a technology that allows trucks to drive closely together to reduce drag and save fuel — uses the radio signals as part of its system to allow two trucks to travel within 40 feet of each other.

Automated driving assist and autonomous driving technologies could help drivers be safer, more efficient, more productive and less fatigued.

“If you’re a trucker and you can get two more hours of drive time by having driver-assist technology, you could accelerate adoption of this technology through our industry,” he said.

But Spear disagrees that autonomous trucks will eliminate driving jobs.

His eight years at Honeywell, which makes autopilot technology for airplanes taught Spear that said. “those planes could take off, fly and land on their own. But we still have pilots up there.”


As a policy veteran, Spear tracks North American Free Trade Agreement movement because trucks account for most of the oborder crossings into Mexico and Canada.

“You look at the totality of trade policy and the role trucking plays to move that freight. We cannot afford not to be in this discussion,” he said, adding that ATA has been part of all eight rounds of NAFTA talks to date.

Separately, truck and trailer makers are building in surcharges to offset tariffs on imported aluminum and steel.

“Right now, the lion’s share of my members is willing to absorb some of this pain.” Spear said. “We just got a great tax reform bill through, and we’re losing that because of the tariffs. My hope is they are temporary and used as a negotiation tactic to get a deal and that those deals come quickly.”

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22 Responses

  1. Russell B Benjamin

    Yah young drivers huh.just like u said better wont work .u tryed most companys train for 7days .m on 7 more days they can be trainers.wont work.u need to get real n talk to non company older retired drivers.more people would drive if u wemt back 20 yrs on driver qualifcations.there stupid n destroy the industry.18 is ok only after 6mons ojt.also looosen up on driving pay.

    • Jeff Yount

      The number one problem trucking faces is cheap owners who cater to the insurance companies and tell the drivers to go screw themselves!!!

  2. Redjeb

    ATA does not represent truckers. Allowing teenagers to drive a semi is stupid.

  3. James lawless

    If you want more drivers trucking companies need to raise salaries. You want to attract people who might have never thought about driving trucks. If the salaries are high enough you won’t have driver shortage. They won’t be quitting if they have to much to lose as far as pay goes. Just retired after driving for 38 years.

  4. Richard N

    Big difference in a ship and driving in rush hour traffic or blowing snow.
    Ships don’t climb mountainous roads or need to chain up in certain areas. Raising taxes is a stupid idea as well. 400 hours of training? That equates to just under 17 days of training. You CANNOT get the proper training in 17 days. Mr. Spears has his head up his donkey and doesn’t have a clue about driving. How many hours or days has he logged??
    Another issue is driver pay. Rookies will be taken advantage of by companies simply by promising them the moon but in the end wins up with the outhouse. Start paying drivers for waiting at a shippers/ receivers dock. OOIDA stated in their monthly magazine that over 400,000 CDL licenses were issued in 2016 and 2017. But people see what these companies are paying and how how they keep the rookies broke is why they don’t stay in the industry.
    I’ve been a truck driver for 49 years and have logged over 7 million miles. Accident free miles at that. Regulations forced me to semi retire in 2015. Stop regulating the industry and pay attention to the people who work for you.

  5. Michael

    The E log mandate pushed by ATA was supposedly for safer highways NOT to force out OO’s effectively forcing out experienced drivers now lets put kids behind the wheel of 80000 lbs vehicles pay them pennies of course small companies cannot afford the insurance to do that but large self insured companies can ,if the company is large and have accidents weekly statistically they are safer than small businesses who are immediately red flagged and out of business unless they sign on with big majors for pennies, yes raise fuel taxes to make sure America is GREAT again absolutely assuring the dream of working your own business is impossible unless you conform to the big wigs.

  6. Truck Dr.

    There is not a shortage of qualified people to fill driving positions (the numbers have prooved this, Land Line Aug. 2018)

    There are qualified drivers who have had enough of the poor treatment, under pay, and poor working conditions and moved on.

    It is not worth the effort and risk to be a driver anymore. Now the mega carriers have to come up with something else. Fill the empty seats with gullible testosterone filled kids who don’t know any better. Let’s see how safe the roads are once they pay our legislators to pass that bill.

  7. John

    Chris Spear according to the Bible one thing about rich people they do know how to continue to try to rob and steal from the people so he don’t want to talk about increasing the drivers pay so that they will make more money so that they will keep the drivers they have and attract new drivers he want to talk about saving some money on taxes and gas fix the roads so you can run up and down the road all day like the Lord said talking to rich people be like talking to children.

  8. Chester

    You pay the drivers $ 25 an hour .$ 10 an if there out away from home for the 34 reset $ 10 an hour of you have to sit at a shipper or receiver. New hours of service with e log your on the a clock . Pay buy the hour . Do this and there would be no shortage. I pay enough taxes. This guy is not for the driver . If truckdrivers aren’t making at less 90 to 120000 being on the road . There just pissing in the wind!

  9. Andrew J Batz

    the industrie will try games and gimmick for a while, but in the end there is only one way to fix the problem, pay and no more b.s. games, it’s truly incredible how they try to hire drivers. So much b.s., so they will learn ,but like with all kids they need a few hard knocks before it sinks In.

  10. William D burke

    I love how people that have no clue what so ever are making and pushing all these laws and regulations.they sit behind their desk in a big plush office thinking they know everything and they dont know crap.first of all one of the biggest reason for driver shortage is the veteran truckers like myself get fed up with all the bullcrap out there from the scales to the police to all these young kids out there driving that dont know what they are doing in a car and you morons want to put them in an 80,000 lbs tractor trailer you truly are stupid and ignorant.another reason is these shippers and receivers that jerk us around i sat for a day and a half because i was 10 minutes late because of a traffic accident were a 19 year old pulled out in front of a big truck you all need to get a clue as to what the real problem is out there on the road. I tell everyone that asks me about driving truck that they would be as ignorant as a politician to even think about going into the trucking industry

  11. Carl Stanoyevic

    Spears is an absolute idiot he’s only for the big trucking companies not for the drivers or anything to do with the drivers if he was such a wonderful guy he would already see that they can’t train the driver today have now coming into the craft he’s only interested in how he can fill the pockets of the big companies so that they can make lots of money to line his pockets the best thing that could happen to the ATA is if the federal government would closes them down and they would do things upon listening to the drivers and not the big box companies who think they know it all and all they are is like a puppy meal they just pound these drivers out treat them like crap and then wonder why it’s accident after accident after accident you don’t see this with the owner operators mr. Spears is a knucklehead and he needs to go as does the ATA

  12. Dwain

    Ata is a joke they are not for truckers at all. I’m embarrassed that drivers actually pay them

  13. Brad

    I imagine Spear has a contract. Maybe a contract for drivers with good health benefits and a pension we wouldn’t be talking about a shortage of drivers. It’s not a driver shortage, it’s a pay and benefit shortage.

  14. Paul

    My God, Speers makes Forrest Gump look like an intergalactic super genius!

    The ATA is the entire problem with the trucking industry — it’s own worst enemy. If mega carrier trucking executives weren’t so absolutely brain damaged, and the ATA wasn’t the executive mouthpiece for fools, the industry would be fine!

    At this point, it honestly looks like the solution to all of the industry woes is to get rid of all of the executive management and the ATA, and start over with people who haveba damn clue!

  15. Chris

    Easy fix and kill two birds with one stone. Take all the homeless teach them to drive and they have a”home”and a job and driver shortages get solved.
    Honestly is that really that bad of an idea???

  16. Erik

    These are the kids that go to school and kill each other now we bring them to truck stops after being away from mommy for a few weeks. We will have mass shootings and more fights. The ATA is full of dumbass people. If you would pay us by the hour people might stay the pay for otr drivers breaks down to under minimum wage. We are in the truck for weeks add up all the unpaid time and tell me it’s fair. 22 years and it just gets worse. The ATA needs to go

  17. Ronald hopper

    How much did you get paid from the BIG 5 to make those comments ?? The ATA is for big companies and screw the others !!! ATA does nothing for the trucking industry except kiss the DOT AND FMSCA and agree with everything they say !!!

  18. Mike H.

    Should be mandatory that ALL government official/employees that deal with the transportation industry SHOULD AND WILL FIRST spend 1 FULL YEAR in the jump seat of an over the road truck! Said official/employees WILL LOG INTO THE ELD/AOBRD AND SHOW ON DUTY NOT DRIVING WHILE THE TRUCK IS MOVING! OFF DUTY WHEN REQUIRED/SLEEPERBERTH WHEN REQUIRED! Any blemishes should be recorded and too many will render official/employees unfit for the gov. job! This is my challenge to all government officials/employees in the transportation industry!! This will give government a better understanding of what trucking is all about!! Too bad this comment will fall on deaf ears!!

  19. Tom Selhorst

    Chris proves again what little knowledge he has about what’s going on in the real world, PLATOONING???? is he serious ? platooning has been going on for years just because we have to!!!! due to the ATA has lowered the caliber of the driver. And now he wants to allow 18 year old drivers. The bottom line is they want to push the autonomous truck so they can produce more revenue. They can yell driver shortage all they want. There is not and never will be a driver shortage, however there has been a wage shortage since 1986 that i know of. If a company can hire a 18 year old kid that is not even old enough to buy a beer and pay them 40,000.00 a year it will chase professional drivers to quit. I hope he can accomplish all he wants to do so that he can cripple the economy and people will realize how out of touch he is…. Sorry Chris but you need to go for a ride in a truck for about one year then think about your goals for the industry.

  20. The Wife

    I have watched my husband be robbed in this industry from his time, his sleep as well as the pay. He gets up at 4am or 5am to get somewhere on time then sits around for 2-4 hours waiting for the dock workers to figure their end out and unload. They make him late to appointments, the detention rarely ever is actually paid (theft) and the he can’t make all his loads and the clock runs out. It is the most ridiculous crap I have ever seen. On top of that, if he gets pulled in a weighed and the load shifts, they will write a ticket. Re-shift the load so that it is properly distributed, they don’t care, they still steal $ through a bogus ticket. Jobs are paying pennies and he’s out the cost of the truck, gas, repairs and then tax season comes and they want the rest. It is pure THEFT and FRAUD. There is a place in hell for the people sitting behind desks robbing hard workers blind. Now you want to take some snot nose, disrespectful children at 18 an put them behind the wheel of a truck when they can’t even be trusted in their Honda Accord? That is the most IGNORANT idea I have heard.


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