May 17, 2018 1:30 PM, EDT

ATA Leaders Meet With IRU in Geneva, Discuss Industry’s Future

Daimler autonomous truckDaimler autonomous truck. (Daimler AG)

Trucking industry leaders from around the world are facing many of the same issues as their counterparts in the United States, including the emergence of advanced driver-assistance systems and combating a persistent shortage of drivers.

These were among the topics discussed when American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear and Chief Economist Bob Costello met with global transportation leaders at a meeting of the International Road Transport Union (IRU) in Geneva on May 3.

“It was an opportunity to share what we have done — our industry, what ATA has done — but also what our administration and Congress are doing,” Spear told Transport Topics.


“ATA has been an IRU Member for 51 years and has a big role to play helping us shape our views and policies,” IRU Managing Director Boris Blanche told TT. “We are all facing a very fast-paced rate of change. We are seeing the changes in the U.S. are very much shared by other countries in Europe and other parts of the world.”

Last May, IRU released a report that explored the possible changes that could confront the worldwide trucking industry as advanced driver-assist and autonomous technologies continue to develop. The report said autonomous vehicles hold the potential to make roads safer, reduce carbon emissions and improve efficiency.

Spear said as advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) technology improves it will continue to be added to trucks, but stressed that fully autonomous trucks are not coming overnight. “I was very, very quick with the IRU to delineate the difference between driverless and driver-assist; over the last years I’ve been very bullish on this issue,” he said. “This technology is not going driverless for the foreseeable future, and what we mean by that is at least 50 years out, removing all human error and that is not just trucks, and cars.”

Spear believes there is an issue of safety, especially as more trucks have ADAS. “Two-thirds of the accidents that involve commercial trucks are caused by passenger vehicles involving driver behavior, texting and speeding. We would take the position you would not want a driverless truck until you have eliminated all human error from passenger vehicles first,” he said.

Last year, ATA’s board of directors unanimously approved a 21-point policy on autonomous technology which states that automated and connected vehicle technologies could “dramatically impact nearly all aspects of the trucking industry,” including safety, emissions, productivity, efficiency, and driver health and wellness. It also states that the deployment of automated driving in trucking will center on technologies that retain a role for the driver.

The issue of finding and retaining those drivers also was discussed at the Geneva meeting. In fact, IRU officials said driver recruitment is at least as big a challenge in Europe and other countries as it is in the United States.

Blanche points out eight European nations need at least 225,000 drivers. Poland has a shortage of 100,000, the United Kingdom 50,000 and France 47,000.

“Europe is also suffering from a driver shortage,” Costello said. “We heard it over and over from all sorts of associations.” Costello is joining a task force with his European counterparts to discuss ways leaders on both sides of the Atlantic can address this issue.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello


In the United States, an ATA report showed at the end of 2017 that trucking was short 50,000 drivers, and if present trends continue it could grow to 174,000 by 2026.

Spear said attending events like the IRU meeting gives ATA an opportunity to have a large role in shaping policy with its IRU counterparts on autonomous vehicles and other issues that will develop from that technology. “The debate to shape that framework that’s happening right now, and you either get into the game and shape that framework or you don’t. It’s our responsibility to take a seat and represent our members’ interests on something that is without question going to impact our industry. We have a responsibility to engage right now.”