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October 10, 2016 4:00 AM, EDT

Editorial: The Future Is Here at MCE

This Editorial appears in the Oct. 10 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

It’s always fun and interesting to talk about the future. Imagining what it may look like and how it will shape our work and our lives.

And then sometimes, all of a sudden, it has a funny way of sneaking up on us. What had once been hypothetical not all that long ago suddenly seems near.

That was a common feeling during American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition on Oct. 1-4 in Las Vegas. As you can see from our coverage throughout this edition of Transport Topics, the annual event felt new at almost every turn.

First was ATA President Chris Spear, who took over in July. His State of the Industry address (in many ways his formal introduction to the trucking masses) fired up attendees with assurances of a new, aggressive approach to educate lawmakers and the public on the importance of trucking and to tackle head-on those who try to smear the 7 million people who make up this industry.

Displayed in the exhibit hall were two brand-new truck models, another SuperTruck concept vehicle and numerous new or updated products. The common thread remains finding ways for fleets to be safer today and more efficient than yesterday.

Additionally, discussions about just how close we may be to making platooning trucks a reality — even if truly autonomous trucks remain decades away — brings with it a host of questions that are rapidly rising up industry’s near-term agenda.

While this future is undoubtedly exciting, we can’t close the book on this year’s MCE without taking a final look back at the person who helped mold trucking’s accomplishments so far this century.

Bill Graves, now an adviser to the federation, was saluted at several occasions and recognized for his leadership during his 13 years as president of ATA.

Graves was named president shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks but had to first complete his tenure as governor of Kansas before taking on the position full time in January 2003. He then helped navigate trucking through the aftermath of the attacks, a recession later in the decade and then around tricky safety and emissions regulations.

As he completes the transition with Spear in the coming months and departs ATA, we were glad to have had been reminded how much progress has been made and to be left excited with what a wild ride the future will hold.