ATA's President and CEO Chris Spear delivers the 2020 State of the Industry address at ATA’s virtual Management Conference and Exhibition.

ATA’s Spear: Combined efforts put America on path to recovery

Oct. 27, 2020
In his 2020 State of the Industry address, ATA President and CEO Chris Spear highlighted the association's strategic efforts, as well as trucking's key role in the nation's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trucking industry kicked off 2020 with “tremendous optimism,” with the passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and a new trade agreement with China in the works, American Trucking Associations (ATA) President and CEO Chris Spear said during his 2020 State of the Industry address at ATA’s virtual Management Conference and Exhibition (MCE). After a few short months, that optimism was soon replaced by a global pandemic. However, the trucking industry’s work with federal and state entities is helping to “put America on a path to full recovery,” Spear noted.

“2020 has been a year of endless challenges,” said Spear, noting that this is the first MCE in ATA’s 87-year history to be held virtually. “But like our great industry, the American Trucking Associations hasn’t shut down, backed down, or sat things out. We’ve rolled up our sleeves, and we’re getting the job done.”

ATA and its state association executives responded to the pandemic by securing a federal “essential” status from the Department of Homeland Security and temporary Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) exemptions from hours of service (HOS) requirements.

“We were able to secure the reopening of public rest areas shuttered by several governors,” Spear noted. “And we were successful in getting state DMV extensions on the issuance and renewal of CDLs, CLPs, and medical certificates as well as federal COVID relief for our industry and customers.”

ATA also took its story about the importance of trucking to the national airwaves. According to Spear, those efforts brought ATA and its members to the table, including on President Trump's Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups. In addition, ATA Chairman Randy Guillot testified before the House and Senate on the importance and timing of passing an infrastructure bill. 

“Our combined efforts have helped put America on a path to full recovery, and the numbers prove it,” Spear pointed out. “Unemployment insurance claims dropped from a peak of 6.9 million in March to 860,000 [in September], while the unemployment rate has been cut nearly in half. There’s more work ahead, but the results and trends are encouraging.”

Throughout the pandemic, the trucking industry restocked depleted shelves and delivered medical supplies and test kits to first responders, Spear said. At the same time, the industry distributed nearly 1,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, 250,000 KN-95 masks, and helped FMCSA distribute more than 1 million more face coverings. The industry also responded to Hurricanes Laura, Sally, and Delta by bringing truckloads of relief to those displaced by the storms, Spear noted.

During ATA’s MCE, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao noted that this year, the Department of Transportation has taken over 100 regulatory relief actions in response to COVID-19. Those actions include waivers, extensions of deadlines, and statements of enforcement discretion.

In September, for instance, FMCSA implemented its revised hours of service rules to provide drivers more flexibility. Chao projected that this revision is estimated to save the economy nearly $274 million every year. Additionally, the department issued waivers for commercial driver licenses and commercial learner permits to ensure the industry could continue hiring new drivers during the ongoing crisis.

“The months ahead will continue to challenge the country, but the safety and dependability of America’s transportation network and the trucking industry will continue to be a priority for this department,” Chao said.

ATA’s strategic priorities

Flanked by data from the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), ATA has taken on tort and legal reform, elevating it as a tier-one priority.

“ATA has led an army of honest, safety-minded industry stakeholders to victory in Louisiana, Iowa, and Missouri, dealing countless blows to the plaintiffs’ bar on issues ranging from seat belt gag rules to phantom damages,” Spear said. “Trial attorneys are now paying attention, some even claiming that they’re the defenders of safety. Really? Where were they when ELDs, cameras, and technology entered our trucks? I don’t recall seeing one trial attorney walking the halls of Congress when that was up for vote.

“Where are they as we advocate for more tools to combat the nation’s war on opioid use and the widespread legalization of recreational marijuana—tools like federal hair testing authority, expanding FMCSA’s drug clearinghouse, or fixing the CSA program,” he continued. “The truth is, they haven’t lifted a finger for safety. Instead, they hide behind frivolous lawsuits aimed at destroying companies, jobs, and families.”

Spear also noted that ATA is well-positioned and prepared for 2021 and beyond.

“Our efforts this year on infrastructure produced a comprehensive bill in the House of Representatives,” he said, adding that movement paves the way for passing comprehensive reform next year, regardless of who wins the presidential election on Nov. 3.

“Success depends most on how infrastructure is funded, and it cannot and will not be done via truck-only tolls,” Spear continued. “ATA has successfully litigated the Rhode Island tolling scheme to a federal trial. This is a ‘must-win’ case. Other states are watching, salivating over the notion of tolling our trucks. But this effort cannot be won on the backs of local and regional carriers.”

As the economy strengthens and capacity tightens, Spear noted that the shortage of drivers and technicians will return. He relayed that the industry must continue its focus on hiring more veterans and exiting service men and women. He also cited FMCSA’s new pilot program to train 18- to 20-year-olds on how to operate heavy-duty commercial vehicle equipment as “a major win for safety.”

According to Spear, this year has also opened the industry’s eyes to the importance of diversity. ATA established a diversity working group in direct support of the Workforce Development Policy Committee.

“This group will shine a brighter light on our efforts to expand urban hiring, including people of color and women; and look at initiatives that increase the number of minorities in our executive ranks, including partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities,” Spear explained.

ATA also will create a new Law Enforcement Advisory Committee to further develop its working relationships with federal, state, and local officials.

“Our industry relies on close partnerships with law enforcement, and this new advisory committee will help improve our efforts to combat cargo theft and fraud and help defeat the scourge of human trafficking, an issue our incoming Chair Sherri Garner Brumbaugh is quite passionate about,” Spear said.

Spear emphasized that this year the industry and America as a whole have had to get used to “different.”

"Serving ATA while our four kids attend four schools virtually, my family and I have managed to stretch the outer limits of our home’s internet bandwidth,” Spear explained. “There’s no question this year impacted each of us—professionally and personally. For me, in the midst of all the challenges, I lost three true friends this year … prohibited from being by their side or getting closure by attending a funeral service. And my family and I experienced firsthand the threat of a major wildfire, as it indiscriminately destroyed more square miles than all of New York City along with countless homes and dreams in its path.”

This year marked Spear’s fifth MCE address as ATA’s president and CEO, but this time he got choked up addressing the determination and respect that permeate the industry.  

“It’s no surprise that America has awakened to the trucking industry,” Spear said. “Together, we inspire others. Together, we will win and grow. And we’ll always answer the call when our country needs us most. Trucking isn’t just the backbone of our economy, it’s the heartbeat of this nation.” 

About the Author

Cristina Commendatore

Cristina Commendatore was previously the Editor-in-chief of FleetOwner magazine. She reported on the transportation industry since 2015, covering topics such as business operational challenges, driver and technician shortages, truck safety, and new vehicle technologies. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of FleetOwner, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Report: The 2024 State of Heavy-Duty Repair

From capitalizing on the latest revenue trends to implementing strategic financial planning—this report serves as a roadmap for navigating the challenges and opportunities of ...

Fleet Industry Benchmarks: How does your fleet stack up?

Discover how your fleet compares to industry benchmarks and gain insights from a 2024 Benchmarking Report on maintenance spend, turnaround time, and more. Join us to identify ...

Build a Tolling Program to Manage Toll Fees and Risks

Fleets looking to effectively manage their operational costs should consider their tolling costs. Download the PrePass whitepaper, “Build a Tolling Program to Manage Toll Fees...

Reducing CSA Violations & Increasing Safety With Advanced Trailer Telematics

Keep the roads safer with advanced trailer telematics. In this whitepaper, see how you can gain insights that lead to increased safety and reduced roadside incidents—keeping drivers...