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ATA-MCE-2019-Chris-Spear-jF.png Photo: Josh Fisher/Fleet Owner
"If anyone in this convention hall thinks the plaintiffs’ bar is going to give the trucking industry a free pass, think again," says ATA's Chris Spear.

Tackling legal marijuana, HOS, infrastructure among ATA's priorities

SAN DIEGO – Chris Spear, president and CEO of American Trucking Associations, outlined the steps his group is undertaking to tackle a variety of current and emerging challenges.

Speaking at ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition, Spear announced the formation of a controlled substances, health and wellness subcommittee to address the legalization of marijuana in 11 states, the District of Columbia and Canada.

In the absence of federal government action, the result is trial lawyers “drooling over the thought of more legal ambiguity,” Spear said. The subcommittee will develop a policy platform to help lawmakers, regulators and courts make decisions about the impact substance abuse is having on safety and commerce.

Spear added ATA will push the government to allow hair follicle testing in place of urine testing, and to work with companies to develop and deploy technology to detect roadside impairment.

Spear declared that trucking is “at war,” especially when it comes to the issue of tort reform. “If anyone in this convention hall thinks the plaintiffs’ bar is going to give the trucking industry a free pass, think again. These ‘nuclear’ verdicts are strangling our industry.”

During his annual “state of the industry” address, Spear took a brief moment to outline how victories from federal tax reform to the preemption of California’s meal and rest break requirements helped fuel one of the best years in the history of the U.S. trucking industry in 2018.

Yet his focus centered on preparing for what is to come, from the pending hours-of-service rulemaking to the seemingly never-ending efforts for greater infrastructure funding.

Spear also took issue with anyone who believes "ATA has gotten cozy with President Trump, his administration and the Senate Republican majority.” He pointed out ATA was invited by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to present at the House majority retreat, and repeatedly are asked to testify at congressional hearings.

“The relationships ATA has with the House and Senate – and both governing parties – are real, strategic and impactful,” he said. “We don’t favor either side over the other.”

However, there remain too many lawmakers who “talk a good game, while doing nothing to shore up our nation’s ailing Highway Trust Fund,” he said.

Spear promoted ATA’s "Build America" Fund that would generate $340 billion through an increase in the federal fuel tax. While it has failed to gain traction in recent years, he stated, “I am absolutely convinced the votes are there to fund America’s infrastructure. And for those in Congress unwilling to get the job done, we need to help facilitate their immediate retirement.”

Similarly, Congress has yet to approved the updated North American Free Trade Agreement, known as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA).

 “We’ve been working… to highlight the overwhelming benefits, as well as the alarming economic impact that would ensue if the pending U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is not passed by Congress economic stability to our industry for years to come,” he said.

Within the trucking industry, Spear stressed that “poaching talent from other carriers is not a sustainable growth strategy” when it comes to solving the lack of available drivers. “We need to focus on improving access to affordable health care and wellness programs that keep our employees healthy and improves their overall quality of life.”

He urged attendees to support efforts to increase the driver pool through recruiting military veterans and legislation that would allow younger drivers to get involved in interstate commerce.

“ATA’s unwavering support for teaching younger talent how to responsibly operate equipment is a measurable gain for safety,” he said.

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