Outgoing ATA chairman reflects on past year, future challenges

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Updated Oct 11, 2018

Outgoing Chairman of the American Trucking AssociationsWith just three weeks left in his tenure as chairman of the American Trucking Associations, Dave Manning, president of Nashville-based TCW, reflected on his time at the association’s helm. During a dinner address at Pressure System International’s 25th anniversary celebration in San Antonio, Texas, he outlined seven key areas of focus for ATA in the last year.

F4A/Meal and rest breaks: While the ATA was unsuccessful in helping generate legislation to overturn California’s meal and rest break laws, Manning holds out hope that the U.S. Department of Transportation can intervene buy pre-empting the rule based on the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (F4A), which states that the federal government’s regulations on trucking supersede any state-level laws.

Trade: Manning said the issue of global trade is one issue the industry remains at odds with the Trump administration. “We spent a lot of time making sure the administration understands that trucking and trade are synonymous,” he said. “If you mess with trade, you mess with trucking. It’s important to us that the Mexico and Canada deals got done, but we still have China, Europe and Japan to accomplish,” adding ATA and industry stakeholders will continue to work to make sure the administration understands how important free trade is to the trucking industry and the nation’s economy.

Autonomous vehicles: Manning said it is vital that everyone understands autonomous vehicles are driver-assist systems rather than driverless systems, and that trained, skilled drivers still will be required. “Turning the steering wheel is only a small portion of what a driver does during duty time,” he said. ATA continues to advocate for language in congressional legislation to address commercial vehicles in addition to passenger cars.

Independent contractor model: Even though ICs make up a significant portion of the driver base in the trucking industry, that model is under attack by state Departments of Labor and unions. “[State] Departments of Labor are determined that ICs are classified as employees and those companies that employ them owe back taxes,” said Manning. “Hundreds of millions of dollars in fines have been levied against companies that use the IC model. I’ll tell you that there isn’t an IC working for a company today that couldn’t go to work as a company driver if that is what they wanted to do.”

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HOS and ELDs: Manning said ATA’s Safety Policy Committee currently is working on suggested “tweaks” to hours-of-service language that would allow drivers more flexibility and let them rest when they feel like they need rest rather than when the current regulations tell them they must rest. Among them is advocating for an extension of the 100-air-mile rule for drivers in out-and-back operations to work a 14-hour day rather than 12 hours and additional sleeper berth flexibility.

Workforce development: Citing a need to add 90,000 drivers per year to keep pace with current demand, Manning says the trucking industry is facing a demographic crisis. Presently, 30,000 drivers are needed per year to continue current growth, while 60,000 are needed to replace retiring drivers and those leaving the industry. “The average age of a driver is 49 years old, compared to 42 for the rest of the workforce,” said Manning. “[ATA’s workforce development subcommittee] has some suggestions to improve workforce development, including working with the U.S. Department of Labor and its 2,500 offices to take unemployed people and get them back to employment. Trucking isn’t one of the jobs on their list.” Manning added the industry must shake the perception that trucking is just a long-haul, gone-three-weeks job. In addition, he said its time to address the under-21 driver dilemma. “Forty-eight states allow 18-year-olds to drive intrastate, but the federal government doesn’t allow them to cross state lines. Safety technology on our trucks enables us to do this in a safe way. The DRIVE-Safe Act requires a specific amount of training for an 18-year-old and specifies the qualifications for the trainer and the safety technology on the tractor.”

Infrastructure funding: Asserting that a fuel tax increase is the most efficient way of funding future transportation infrastructure needs and advocating ATA’s Build America Fund, Manning warned of the “cost of doing nothing,” including hidden costs associated with congestion, accidents because of unsafe roads and damage caused by roads. “The cost of doing nothing actually exceeds the costs of investing in our infrastructure,” he said. “For the average motorist, the cost per year is $1,500 for collisions, congestion and for pothole-type damage. A 20-cent-per-gallon increase in fuel tax is less than $100 per year for the average motorist,” adding that the average motorist spends 41 hours per year in congestion. “That’s a whole other work week.”