At the Omnitracs Outlook user conference on Feb. 27, Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Associations, described President Trump as “pretty much a freelancer” with an agenda that is good for the industry.
“We can debate all day about whether this president is a wise man, but we can all agree he is not a fool. I think he is pretty bright, actually,” remarked Spear after taking the stage following the opening address by John Graham, chief executive of Omnitracs.
Trump is “not loyal to anybody in Washington,” he said, noting that the independence of the White House gives the ATA and its membership “an opportunity to do some really amazing things.”
One item on Trump’s agenda is a 10-year infrastructure bill worth one trillion.
“We have not seen anything like that since Eisenhower,” he said. “For three decades we have been fighting over scraps. We need to serve this president and Congress in a manner that is befitting to help them get this across the finish line.”
Spear believes that the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate will be enforced, as planned, in December, 2017.
“A lot of things we try to do in Washington have a good end,” he said. “I am very excited to have the rule done.”
He predicted the ELD mandate will serve as a catalyst for the future of autonomous vehicles, and that the Trump administration will unleash the full potential of the federal government to create new paths towards autonomy.
Widespread adoption of autonomous trucks is at least 20 to 25 years away, he said, but discussions of that future reality are happening now.
“Trucking has got to be part of that debate,” he said. “This industry has to take a seat at the table or it’s going to be left behind.”
While the motoring public may not be willing to invest an extra $5,000 to $10,000 for autonomous technologies, the trucking industry is more likely to fast track driver assist systems that eventually will lead to full, Level 5 autonomy on the roads.
Autonomous vehicle technology is already being developed in trucking through “business-to-business transactions” among suppliers looking to create a value proposition for carriers that improves safety, reduces fuel consumption and emissions, and eliminates congestion.
The trucking industry spends $49.6 billion sitting in traffic congestion each year, he noted, which is the equivalent of 246,500 drivers sitting idle for an entire year.
“If this technology can do these things then carriers will buy,” he said. “We can accelerate and adopt technology faster than any transportation mode.”
To accelerate the adoption of the technology, key decision makers in Washington need to be focused on the trucking industry first.
“We are the test bed, the innovators, and the ones to get this done,” he said.
Displacement of drivers is still decades away, he believes, and such a scenario would require every vehicle on the road to have full Level 5 autonomy. Near term, Spear said that driver assist technology will help eliminate congestion and enable fleets to pay drivers more and move more freight.
One item on Trump’s agenda that concerns Speer is renegotiating the North America Free Trade Agreement.
“I am really trying to understand this president and where we are heading,” said Spear. “There is no issue more important than trade.”
He noted that trade and trucking are synonymous with 76 percent of NAFTA surface freight and 83 percent of cross-border traffic moved by truck.
“Even the slightest change could have mammoth implications. We all believe in free and fair trade, but we need to be very, very careful to not unravel something that will have dire consequences on trucking and American economy.”
Spear concluded his talk by mentioning ATA’s lobbying efforts. Every week that the Congress is in session, ATA has chief executives from member motor carriers in four different states come to Washington and meet with their House and Senate members.
“I guarantee that will work the needle,” he said. “We are always in front of them.”