ATA President Chris Spear: “This is our time to shine”

ATA President Chris Spear speaks during the opening of TMC 2018.

Declaring that trucking needed, and would have, a seat at the table, American Trucking Associations’ President Chris Spear fired up the crowd at the official opening of the Technology & Maintenance Council’s Annual Meeting & Transportation Technology meeting in Atlanta on Monday night.

Spear touched on the driver shortage, autonomous vehicles, and technology as the three primary themes of his speech to TMC members and show attendees. “This is our story and we need to take a seat at the table,” Spear declared.

He also briefly mentioned infrastructure, saying that “good infrastructure is good economy,” before noting ATA would like to see a 20 cent increase in the fuel tax over four years. “This is a sound investment which is why Ronald Reagan signed it into law twice,” he noted.

In regard to technology, Spear said the industry can not fear technological advancements, but must use them to “drive outcomes.”

“We are the trucking industry; we are the best equipped to drive this outcome,” he said, in regards to autonomous vehicles. To that, Spear said he just came back from a Washington event and that when NHTSA releases their autonomous vehicle 3.0 roadmap later this year, trucking would be included in that.

The 2.0 version did not mention commercial trucks, which concerned many in the industry. However, Spear said he does not believe autonomous trucks will take away driver’s jobs and the continued talk that they will could hurt the industry in recruiting new driving talent, which is already short some 50,000 drivers, he said.

“[With] he mere suggestion that we are going to Level 5 [autonomous] tomorrow, who is going to join our industry,” he asked. “Let’s use innovation as a catalyst to drive change. …I flew here, and I liked the fact that there are two pilots in the cockpit of my plane, ready to take control if needed.”

Spear also said it was time to stop talking about the driver shortage and start solving the problem. ATA has set up a task force to come up solutions, and Spear also said that ATA is working to develop programs to attract younger drivers.

“The fact that we can’t have an 18 year old drive a truck across state lines but we can have 18 year olds overseas [in the military] operating multi-million dollar equipment is a policy” that must change, he said.

Spear opened his speech by welcoming attendees and praising the work that the TMC committees have done in putting the show together.

“I think after touring this [show] floor, you will appreciate all the great things TMC is doing,” he said. “I think it’s a sign of all the work TMC and the leadership has done.”

Noting the economy and trucking’s role in, Spear noted how the industry is “the backbone of the economy.”

“This is our time to shine,” he said.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.