August 12, 2016 7:40 PM, EDT

ATA President Spear: 'We Need to Get in the Game' With Legislative Efforts

John Sommers II for Transport Topics

INDIANAPOLIS — In his first public speech to members, American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear pledged to primarily take on issues that the trucking industry can win in Congress.

“We need to think about safety, technology, environment and the driver shortage,” Spear said at a breakfast meeting with regional members here Aug. 12 during the National Truck Driving Championships and National Step Van Driving Championships. “We need to get in the game.”

Spear promised to not waste ATA resources and time on industry issues that do not have support in Congress or the support of the membership.

“We need to look ahead and stop getting caught in these fights about weight and length when we know that the votes aren’t there right now,” Spear said. “They’re good discussions to have, and they’d be good to take on if the votes were there.

“I’m no longer going to allocate resources where we do not have the votes to move an issue. And I’m not going to allow our industry to get further divided on issues that simply can’t pass.”

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Spear said his first order of business in Congress this year will be to shepherd the effort to persuade Congress to nullify the hours-of-service restart provision permanently and revert to the July 2013 rule.

He also said ATA will push legislation that will exempt truckers from regulations initiated in California that require meal and rest breaks.

“We need to revert this back to one federal standard,” Spear said. “This is imperative.”

Spear said ATA's search committee for its chief executive made it clear it wanted to take the trade organization in a different direction.“I guess I’m that different direction,” he said.

Spear noted that in the past five to seven years there has been a “sea change in Washington, D.C.,” and that the art of compromise is gone.

“Bills got moved because people worked together. No longer. The old guard is gone. These new folks who have come in with this idealogical mentality don’t know how to legislate, and there’s no one there to teach them how to do it,” Spear said.

Maybe technologies such as connected and automous vehicles can help solve some of trucking’s challenges, but that effort is being made mostly by the auto industry, Spear said.

“But here’s the key: We’re not at the table. We have to be at the table,” he said. “I am not going to concede in this role a regulatory framework in the next five to 10 years that the auto industry designed and we inherit.”

Other issues that the industry needs to “move the needle on” include tax reform, highway funding and trade issues, he said.

“If we do it together we can win,” Spear said. “My vision is simple: It’s to win. It feels good. We’ll lose from time to time. I’m OK with that. But for those that win against us, our opponents, I want them to feel what it’s like to go up against us.

“You want to take us on. Bring your best game to the table, because we’re going to make you pay a very large price for that win. And maybe next time, they’ll have a moment of pause. They’ll think twice about it.”

Spear also said he wants his new leadership team to communicate with Congress and the public.

“I am so tired of these anti-trucking groups getting the headline with a one-line sound bite that trucks kill,” he said. “That stuff’s going to end.”

Immediate reaction to Spear’s speech was positive.

“I’m certainly very supportive of the things he’s got going,” said Gary Langston, president of the Indiana Motor Truck Association. “I see it as revolutionary leadership in ATA that we’re all going to benefit from. I think the most significant message today is we all need to get on board more than we are.”

Former ATA Chairman Charles “Shorty” Whittington said that Spear is a “breath of fresh air.”

“If we want to have a new day, we’ve got to have a new beginning,” Whittington said. “He is just the real deal.”