Pointing out that trucking moves 76% of the freight between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, told attendees of the recent Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue meeting in Dallas, that ATA is “pleased with the outcome of U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement [USMCA], but we have a lot of work to do with implementation.”
In the HDAD session on trade policy and impacts on industry, Ann Wilson, senior vice president, government affairs for the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association, asked Spear if he was optimistic about the USMCA agreement stabilizing trade. “I think things will stabilize,” Spear replied. “We want stability and certainty, and we hope having an agreement in place will bring manufacturing back online. We are looking at the latter half of 2020 to be strong for trucking.”
Wilson and Spear also talked about safety in the trucking industry. “Safety is the benchmark principal of our industry,” Spear said. “We are pro safety in the regulatory environment, but we want clarity of how to comply with regulations. As long as it’s clear, we can comply with it, even if we don’t like it.”
When the conversation turned to autonomous vehicles, Spear again emphasized the stance he has been taking for over three years that “trucking needs to take a seat at the table when it comes to regulations regarding autonomous trucks and not just let the passenger car industry dictate what will happen.”
Unity on Highway Funding
He also shared his thoughts on highway funding. “Infrastructure is one of those issues that requires unity. Externally we must speak with one voice.” Spear said he expects to see a House infrastructure bill introduced soon and hopes trucking will help shape the its direction.
ATA favors funding the next highway bill with a 5 cent increase in the fuel tax collected on wholesale purchases of motor fuel over four years. “That will add $340 billion to the Highway Trust Fund over 10 years. It will be more than enough to pay for [road and bridge] projects if it is not diverted to other projects,” he explained.
In answer to an audience member’s question, Spear said he did not understand why fuel taxes have become a political issue. “Democrats and Republicans, we all drive on the same roads and bridges. There is a role for the federal government [to fund infrastructure].”
Spear reminded session attendees that without an infrastructure bill that’s national in scope, more than half the states will not have adequate funding for infrastructure projects. “We need a funding source that takes pressure off of states and localities,” he added.
He also remarked on the so-called “nuclear verdicts” that juries have been awarding to plaintiffs in suits against trucking companies. “It is an 800-pound gorilla,” he said. “There is a role for industry to help resolve this and it is called blocking and tackling.”Spear said ATA speaks regularly to members of Congress about what legal reform in this area would mean. “Nuclear verdicts are job killers. We will work with state trucking associations on this issue.”
Spear added that ATA has identified five states in which legislators would be willing to sign a tort reform bill to help blunt nuclear verdicts. However, he cautioned the audience that tort reform will not take place overnight. “It will be a 10-year process.”