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The year 2020 has been one of endless challenges, even though it began with tremendous optimism that portended a year of record growth for the trucking industry.
As the year began, the hopes attached to a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada were dashed by a worldwide pandemic that upended the global economy and tested our nation like never before. In the initial days of the COVID-19 crisis, the things we knew were outweighed by the things we didn’t know; as a result, fear and confusion spread like the virus. Yet through the chaos, one thing became immediately and abundantly clear to the American people: Truckers get the job done.
When the pandemic struck, our industry got to work. While the country was paralyzed by anxiety, the American truck driver delivered a much-needed sense of calm and reassurance. Truckers showed the nation how we pull together and rise to the challenge. By embodying the motto Keep Calm and Keep on Trucking, we reminded America what it means to lead in times of crisis.
American Trucking Associations didn’t shut down, either; we rolled up our sleeves and got to work, providing direction and guidance to members as confusing and conflicting orders were handed down from all levels of government. We worked around the clock with a laser-focus on one mission: ensuring your trucks could keep rolling so that our economy can keep moving.
How did we do this? By securing federal “essential” status from the Department of Homeland Security and temporary FMCSA exemptions from hours-of-service requirements. We also secured the reopening of public rest areas shuttered by governors. Plus, we succeeded in getting state DMV extensions on the issuance and renewal of CDLs, CLPs and medical certificates, as well as federal COVID relief for our industry and customers.
We also led the charge to keep our workforce healthy, providing more than 150,000 face coverings to our members at cost, and partnering with the U.S. Department of Transportation to distribute 1.5 million more across the country. We procured more than 1,100 gallons of hand sanitizer and stationed them along major freight corridors for drivers to replenish their personal supplies free of charge.
We answered the call to serve on the president’s Great American Economic Revival advisory group and testify before Congress.
All the while, we never lost focus on our association’s strategic priorities, finding ways to keep advancing the ball on our tier-one issues while navigating the tumultuous political environment enveloping Washington.
2020 will mark a turning point in our battle for tort reform. After years of playing defense against the plaintiff bar, we’ve now gone on the offensive. Flanked by sound data from the American Transportation Research Institute, we dealt the bar significant blows on issues ranging from seat belt gag rules to phantom damages. Victories in Louisiana, Iowa and Missouri have created momentum and precedent for more states to follow. And while our campaign has only just begun, the trial lawyers have received an unmistakable message: The days of targeting our trucks in pursuit of Jackpot Justice are coming to an end.
As the economy recovers and capacity tightens, the shortage of drivers and technicians looms large. With our support, the DRIVE Safe Act continues to gain bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, and FMCSA has now announced a pilot program modeled on the legislation. This progress brings us closer to opening doors for the next generation of truckers.
Our efforts this year on infrastructure produced a comprehensive bill in the House of Representatives, and paves the way for long-term funding next year — regardless of who voters elect in November. Thanks to the newfound visibility our industry earned this year, we’re in a stronger position to lead this debate and shape the outcome under the next Congress.
Gratitude can be powerful medicine in challenging times. Perhaps the president said it best from the South Lawn of the White House: “Thank God for truckers.” No matter the challenges in our way, we’ve shown that truckers will always have America’s back.
It’s no surprise that America has awakened to the trucking industry. Trucking isn’t just the backbone of our economy. We’re the heartbeat of this nation.
Chris Spear is president and CEO of American Trucking Associations.
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