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October 29, 2017 12:00 PM, EDT
Opinion: ‘Incredible Opportunity’ Exists for Trucking

By David Manning
Chairman of the Board
American Trucking Associations

When I was a young man, I could not have predicted that I’d spend my career in the trucking industry, let alone become chairman of American Trucking Associations.

My father was a dentist, and I thought I might follow in his footsteps. But once I started working with an uncle who owned a trucking company, I never looked back. Trucking is in my blood.

Manning

Four decades have passed since then, and it’s been a quite a ride. Taking the reins as your chairman is a tremendous honor — and one I do not take lightly.

There couldn’t be a more important time than now for ATA to represent this tremendous industry and our federation. Our industry faces a number of challenges, but in those challenges I believe there is incredible opportunity.

To turn opportunities into victories, we must be united as an industry and as a federation. While ATA is a diverse organization, it’s critical that we speak with one voice. A strong voice — one that advocates a pro-safety, pro-efficiency and, above all, pro-trucking message — is essential to communicating our message to the public, the media and leaders in Washington and across all 50 state capitals.

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When we’re unified as an association, it’s impressive how powerful our voice can be: We have secured critical hours-of-service reform. We have made our roads safer by defending the electronic logging device mandate. We have taken our seat at the table in working on a regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles and the future of our industry.

In addition, we have showcased ATA’s trucks on the South Lawn of the White House, sending a powerful signal to Washington that our industry and our issues must be taken seriously.

But several critical issues lie ahead that we must address together on behalf of our industry.

First, we must continue to advocate for improving our roads and bridges and the need for long-term, sustainable and effective funding for these important projects. Congestion and road disrepair cost our industry billions of dollars. We are willing to pay our fair share to reduce those costs by improving our highways.

We also need to look ahead to what freight transportation and logistics will look like in five, 10 or 15 years. Specifically, I’m talking about our drivers. Finding safe and qualified drivers becomes more challenging every day. As we face an impending driver shortage, the question “Where are our industry’s drivers going to come from?” should be a paramount concern.

That is why ATA President and CEO Chris Spear is leading the charge to talk about workforce development and trucking. We want to work with government agencies to ensure that the next generation is aware and informed about the rewards and benefits of a career in trucking.

We must reach out to communities that we haven’t focused on in the past and impart the value of trucking as a profitable and fulfilling career choice.

In addition, we have to educate them — and policymakers — that the job of driving a truck won’t disappear because of technology. Like many of you, I am intrigued by the possibility of more automated vehicles on our highways, but those vehicles will always need drivers. The planes we fly in are highly automated vehicles, but they still have pilots. I believe our industry will adapt in the same way, perhaps making the job of professional truck driver even more attractive to a generation that has grown up surrounded by and connected to technology.

We also must raise our voice in support of national, uniform regulatory frameworks for trucking — whether they be for automated vehicles, or meal and rest break rules.

Trucks move more than 10 billion tons of freight, crossing every state border in our country. We cannot have the rules of the road change every time a truck crosses a line on a map. ATA will continue to press Congress, particularly on meal and rest break pre-emption, but generally on the need for uniform federal rules in all aspects of trucking.

Finally, we need to raise awareness of the fact that our industry can comfort those in need. Trucks are often among the first sign of recovery and return to normalcy after disasters such as the recent hurricanes that struck portions of our country. That spirit of giving back is part of our industry’s DNA — whether it is America’s Road Team Captains educating the public or drivers taking time away from their families to deliver life’s essentials to those in need.

It’s why I’m pleased we are unveiling details about the new ATA Foundation. This charitable arm of the federation will positively impact the lives of many Americans and be yet another tool for us to tell a positive story on behalf of the trucking industry.

I want to thank my predecessor, Kevin Burch, and all past and future ATA chairmen who have helped me prepare for this exciting journey. And thank you, my fellow ATA members, for bestowing this tremendous honor on me. Let’s take the next year to raise our voices together and continue to move our industry forward.

American Trucking Associations is the largest trade federation in the trucking industry and has headquarters in Arlington, Va., as well as affiliated associations in every state. ATA owns Transport Topics. Manning also is president of TCW Inc., an intermodal trucking company based in Nashville, Tenn.