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October 26, 2020 2:30 PM, EDT

ATA’s Chris Spear Commends Truckers, Discusses Pressing Issues During Virtual Address

Chris Spear"Throughout this pandemic, trucking has done what it does best: care,” said American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear. (Transport Topics)

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American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear praised the industry’s ability to rise to the occasion as he virtually addressed Management Conference & Exhibition attendees Oct. 26.

The event, like many others scheduled during 2020, was held virtually because of coronavirus-related safety concerns. Although the pandemic has presented many difficulties, Spear noted that it has provided a valuable opportunity for truck drivers to demonstrate their commitment to the American people.

When people started to appreciate the importance of those who hauled their paper goods and disinfectant spray, Spear said the industry made use of the attention. Industry representatives appeared on national TV to talk about their work. President Donald Trump hosted Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, industry executives and truckers at a ceremony at the White House on April 16.

Spear said ATA sprang into action, helping to secure “essential” status for truck drivers during the pandemic and working with state leaders to keep open (and, in some cases, reopen) rest areas.

“2020 has been a year of endless challenges,” Spear said. “We rolled up our sleeves, and we’re getting the job done. Throughout this pandemic, trucking has done what it does best: care.”

In remarks that preceded Spear’s speech, Chao noted the Department of Transportation has taken action to ensure truckers can operate safely during the pandemic. During the height of it, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued an emergency declaration relaxing certain hours-of-service regulations for motor carriers involved in coronavirus-related relief efforts.

Elaine Chao

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao noted Americans have gained a greater appreciation for the trucking industry during the pandemic. (Transport Topics)

In partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, industry groups and state representatives, FMCSA distributed 1 million protective masks to commercial truck drivers in late April.

“During COVID-19, the American people have gained a much greater appreciation for the trucking industry’s vital role in keeping our supply chain open,” Chao said. “Without you, food, medical equipment and essential supplies can’t get to where they need to go.”

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Truckers also responded to weather-related challenges presented in 2020, hauling relief supplies to those affected by hurricanes Laura, Sally and Delta.

Within ATA, a new development was the creation of the Moving and Storage Conference and the Moving and Storage Council, which were announced in August and aim to expand the association’s presence in that sector.

Spear also updated the audience on priorities he outlined during last year’s MCE, such as tort and legal reform regarding “nuclear” verdicts. Nuclear verdicts are those in which juries award large sums, usually more than $10 million. Spear said ATA has scored tort reform victories in Louisiana, Iowa and Missouri, and offered a piece of “Wyoming wisdom” to trial lawyers.

“If your horse drops dead, it’s best to get off,” Spear said. “Trial lawyers, they’re paying attention. Thanks to you, we’re taking them to the woodshed.”

Another ongoing challenge is the legal battle over Rhode Island’s trucks-only tolls, which the industry has bristled against. ATA has argued that truck tolls discriminate against interstate commerce.

“This is a must-win case,” Spear said. “This effort cannot be won on the backs of local and regional carriers. It’s everyone’s responsibility to fight and win. If we lose this, it could be in your backyard next.”

Spear said ATA will continue to work with lawmakers on an infrastructure package. He said the bill produced by the House of Representatives this year will pave the way for a long-term funding solution next year.

The session took place just over a week before the election, and Spear said ATA has reached out to campaigns of both presidential candidates to express interest in a working relationship.

“We try very, very hard to work with people who work with us,” Spear said. “We just don’t know who the electorate’s going to send to Washington.”

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