COLUMBUS, Ohio — American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear roused a crowd of hundreds at the National Truck Driving Championships breakfast event Aug. 16.
The event, appropriately titled the Breakfast of Champions, was attended by champion drivers and inspectors, as well as family members, volunteers and trucking executives.
Who: Winners from nine categories at the state level have advanced to the national competition, where a grand champion will be crowned
What: Contestants are judged on a written examination and their driving skills
When: Aug. 15-18
Where: Columbus, Ohio
NTDC offers a glimpse into the competitive and supportive world of trucking, with drivers who take notes on the course and shake each others’ hands and supporters who wait in line for hours to hang signs to cheer on their champions. Spear emphasized the need to bring the values of the trucking industry that the public rarely sees to the fore to give people a deeper understanding of the men and women who move freight.
“It’s about the universal values we share as an industry,” Spear said. “You are our image. You’re husbands, you’re wives, you’re fathers, you’re mothers.”
Although Spear celebrated the 424 drivers gathered to compete, he indicated that the population of truck drivers needs to grow. ATA last year reported the shortage at more than 50,000 drivers. Furthermore, the industry is aging. According to surveys by ATA, the average driver age in the for-hire over-the-road truckload industry is 49.
To redress the driver shortage, ATA created a Workforce Development Subcommittee last fall. The taskforce has helped to craft policies and support legislation that would incorporate more young people into the industry.
“The ability to grow our economy depends on trucks and adding more talent behind the wheel,” Spear said. “This is an issue we can no longer talk about. This is an issue we need to begin solving. Dealing with the ‘now’ matters. It’s going to shape our future. The talent’s there, but when it retires, who’s going to take your place?”
Another hurdle for young people is that the current federal law does not permit 18- to 21-year-olds to drive Class 8 trucks across state lines. Spear recommended legislation that would offer targeted training in an effort to allow people in this age range to drive a truck interstate.
One such piece of legislation is the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy, or DRIVE-Safe Act, which proposes a two-step program for prospective young drivers to complete once they obtain a commercial driver license. The legislation, introduced in March, would require these drivers to log 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver in the cab after earning a CDL. Once completed, the young driver would be able to participate in interstate commerce.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration chief Ray Martinez, six months on the job, joined Spear in addressing the assembly. He acknowledged that the contenders’ success is due to a consistent commitment to safety.
“To become a champion, you must first succeed out there on the roadways every day. Your commitment to excellence has no doubt saved many lives along the way,” Martinez said. “For the traveling public to enjoy safe roads, we need safe, qualified drivers and skilled inspectors.”
Turner (left) and Martinez. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
NTDC is held in conjunction with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s North American Inspectors Championship. Some 52 law enforcement officials representing the United States, Canada and Mexico will compete, completing a written test and vehicle inspections.
The work of the 13,000 CVSA inspectors dispersed throughout the continent is vitally linked to the safe practices of truck drivers, according to Capt. Christopher Turner of the Kansas Highway Patrol. Turner also is president of CVSA.
“The goal at CVSA is to ensure everyone traveling the roadways make it safely,” Turner, clad in full state trooper regalia, told the crowd. “You set a high standard, and you continue to raise that bar every day and every week.”