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Logistics Quarterly Magazine - Volume 16, Issue 2, 2010ATA Icon

Taking a Look at the Road Ahead

By Bill Graves

As we race toward the mid-term elections, there are a plethora of issues at the forefront of voters’ minds — not the least of which is the economy. Everyone wants to know what will be done about job creation and economic growth.

We’re keeping an eye on the economy in the trucking industry as well. We think the data shows this economic cycle is sustainable. It’s likely that growth will slow a bit during the remainder of this year and the beginning of 2011, but that slow-and-steady pace means that the chances of a double-dip remain relatively small. Even small gains are translating into good news for the transportation sector. American Trucking Associations (ATA)’s truck tonnage index has seen consistent year-over-year growth, and for-hire trucking employment is gaining.

Aside from the economy, one of the most pressing issues for ATA is Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) 2010. Safety has always been a top priority for ATA. We’ve embraced CSA 2010 and the opportunity it offers for the industry to get bad actors off the road and improve the safe image of the industry; however, there are still a number of aspects of the program that need to be clarified. One of the sticking points for us is crash accountability and how at-fault and unpreventable crashes are weighted. We’re also keeping an eye on how warnings and citations will be regarded. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has announced a handful of positive methodology changes, and we will continue to monitor the impact of CSA 2010 on our members and the industry as a whole.

We’re also prioritizing other safety issues, including hours-of-service regulations and distracted driving.

Currently, there is a new proposed hours of service (HOS) rule at the Office of Management and Budget that should be revealed to the public around the beginning of November. I’m concerned that HOS regulations may change, even though crash statistics have dramatically improved since the current rules were implemented. Even as the industry has become safer, several citizen groups have been advocating for reduced working hours and increased restart hours. We may also learn more about electronic logging and when electronic logging devices will become mandated. I believe it will happen; it’s just a matter of when.

On a similar note, distracted driving is Secretary LaHood’s top priority. ATA also supports measures that will improve safety on our highways, like a ban on texting. However, we worry that some distracted driving initiatives may go too far. Our economy relies on the just-in-time deliveries made possible by the in-cab communication that’s vital to the industry. Our progressive 18-point safety agenda focuses on multiple measures that can reduce driver inattention, a leading cause of crashes, but the needs of the industry and the benefits of responsible use of technology must be considered when distracted driving regulations are developed.

Of course, another top issue for the trucking industry is highway reauthorization. Maintaining and improving our nation’s roads and bridges is a top priority for the industry, and we’ve now been without a highway bill for more than a year. Funding is certainly a sticking point and many ideas have been floated. ATA has told Congress repeatedly that infrastructure funding must be prioritized and that monies in the Highway Trust Fund should be used for their intended purpose instead of being diverted to other projects. If the government fails to act, states may be compelled to step in, creating a patchwork of programs that could complicate interstate operations.

ATA is also monitoring some other issues surrounding reauthorization, including legislation about more productive vehicles. With safely increased truck weights and combination vehicles, we would require fewer trucks on the road and reduce both fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

The environment is another hot topic for the industry. We support the U.S. Administration’s push for fuel economy and emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks and are excited to provide input as the rulemaking process continues with the EPA and NHTSA. However, cap-and-trade legislation is still a concern. Trucks are not discretionary fuel consumers and we are concerned that climate change legislation will increase diesel prices and hurt consumers without significantly reducing emissions from the trucking industry.

In the realm of labor reform, Card Check is now familiar to many of us, and organized labor’s efforts to push through that or similar legislation that will make it easier for them to organize are not necessarily over. The Nadler Bill, which would permit states and other local units of government — such as ports — to influence limits on commerce, could also adversely impact the trucking industry by creating union protections.

There are many issues and priorities to weigh as we look toward next month’s elections. Races at all levels are significant and will likely impact the economy, jobs and businesses. The road to recovery is still tough, but we will continue to travel it together.

Bill Graves is President and CEO of the American Trucking Associations in Arlington, Va. Prior to joining ATA, Graves was a two-term governor of Kansas.

 

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