Spear speech to ATA reveals organization plan to reach out to independent drivers

Photo: ATA Twitter feed

Photo: ATA Twitter feed

ATA President Chris Spear took to the stage Monday at the annual meeting of the American Trucking Associations, and the list of things he was concerned about was long.

In a laundry list of concerns and initiatives that ATA plans to undertake, a few things jumped out:

--Details were not offered but there is a new initiative soon to be announced that appears directed at the independent owner operators who have usually found their voice through OOIDA. The ATA has been criticized by some independent drivers as not representing their interests; to the contrary, social media postings from drivers often rip ATA to shreds as being a tool  of big carriers. The tension between OOIDA and ATA has often boiled over. But in his speech, Spear said ATA will be announcing this week the formation of the Independent Contractor Ambassadors Program. "These ambassadors will represent independent truckers before key decision makers," he said, according to a transcript of his speech; FreightWaves was in attendance as well. The ambassadors will "(explain) first-hand why they choose this entrepreneurial path that provides them flexibility, the opportunity to build their own businesses and to spend more time with their family." There were no further details provided.

--With all the issues facing the trucking sector, it is striking how often the ATA's battle with California over its state rules on meals and rest breaks has come up at the meeting. A recent ATA petition to FMCSA to overrule the California law was one of the first topics of Spear's speech. "We've witnessed a nexus between lawmakers' willingness to do their job and Congress becoming a sanctuary for obstruction," Spear said. The petition to FMCSA was filed only after ATA had "exhausted every legislative option available," he added. Spear also raised the growing issue of inadequate parking, saying required additional rest breaks mean there are more trucks looking for parking, and sometimes finding it where it isn't particularly safe. "The sheer lack of available parking alone has forced our drivers to park in unsafe conditions, putting themselves and the motoring public at an elevated risk."

--Spear only briefly touched on FMCSA's Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that raises the prospect of changes in certain parts of the Hours of Service rule. Spear said that "now is the time" for FMCSA to "make sensible changes to the federal HOS regulations. But he did say data coming from ELDs allow "common-sense improvements" to existing rules, and that it would "allow us to tighten the reigns on detention time." Several of the issues being addressed by FMCSA would involve detention time, including changes to the split sleeper berth rule. ATA affiliate ATRI earlier this year put out a report that suggested research showed changes in the rule would have a beneficial impact on drivers without compromising safety. A change’s impact on detention would be that if a driver was going to be laid up at a distribution center for a lengthy period of time, an allowable 6-4 split on the 10 off-duty hours would enable a driver to possibly spend all of his detention time in the sleeper berth—or elsewhere on the truck—rather than being limited to the 2 hours of the currently mandated 8-2 split.

--Spear probably devoted the most words in his speech to the issue of allowing 18-20 year old interstate drivers. He cited the usual arguments: they drive intrastate in 48 states, the DRIVE-Safe Act would call for extensive training and apprenticeship, and the opponents aren't raising objections to the intrastate driving and so are displaying a lack of consistency. "Not one of these 48 states have all these training and technology requirements ATA is seeking at the federal level," Spear said. And then he got to the edge that Spear is often known for: "Where do these same obstructionists stand on sending an 18-year-old off to fight our wars?" He then talked of his own son who is 19 and in the military, and having visited an aircraft carrier that was under the helm of an 18-year-old female soldier taking orders on steering that same ship. "We must be allowed to compete for the same talent as other industries and teach them to safely and responsibly operate this equipment," Spear said.