ATA President explains how to make trucking better

The American Trucking Association (ATA) is the commercial transportation industry's most powerful advocate for innovation and legislation.

For nearly a century, the ATA has brought together state trucking associations, conferences, and influential individuals to protect and push the industry forward. So, when the ATA’s president has something to say about the future of trucking, you listen.

President and CEO Bill Graves (who also stands as Governor of Kansas) has decided to step down as the ATA’s leader at the end of 2016, but before he goes, he has a few ideas for how America can support and improve the trucking industry.

How to make trucking more efficient

Commercial trucks make up only about 7 percent of vehicles on the road, but they easily consume more than 25 percent of oil. Not only is fuel a significant cost that trucking companies hope to limit, but such consumption has a profound effect on the environment. Despite relatively new fuel economy standards that require trucks to meet a certain efficiency level, the nation’s ever-increasing reliance on long-distance trucking continues to make fuel consumption and global warming emissions important issues.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are encouraging a second phase of heavy-duty vehicle standards that aims to reduce commercial trucking emissions by over a billion metric tons. The new standards require long-distance trucks to maintain a certain level of fuel efficiency, which they can achieve in a variety of ways. Driving at or below the speed limit is highly economical for heavy trucks, and using additives like Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) can also improve an engine’s efficiency.

Graves’s solution is to alter federal and state regulations on truck size. Because trucking is “the only mode of freight transportation that can get into every nook and cranny,” Graves argues that it is vital the government recognize the need for better productivity, which means longer, heavier trucks. In conjunction with better standards, packing more freight into individual trucks ensures there will be fewer trucks on the road, which will lower emissions and improve the economy.

How to make trucking safer

Every day on American roads, more than 96 commercial trucks endure collisions that lead to the deaths of one or more people. In total, that amounts to at least 35,000 fatalities per year, but almost no one is working to lower such figures.

Every day on American roads, more than 96 commercial trucks endure collisions that lead to the deaths of one or more people - image courtesy of Click Intelligence.
Every day on American roads, more than 96 commercial trucks endure collisions that lead to the deaths of one or more people – image courtesy of Click Intelligence.

According to Bill Graves, distractions are to blame for the bulk of traffic-related fatalities. Indeed, counting collisions that don’t include commercial trucks, 3,100 people are killed and more than 424,000 wounded due to distracted driving. In an interview this past April, which those in the industry recognize as National Distracted Driving Month, Graves said, “We urge motorists to put down their phones and keep their eyes and minds on the road.”

Truckers face immense penalties for driving while distracted. Aside from possible injury or death, commercial drivers found texting or using handheld mobile devices while driving are subject to fines and disqualifications from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

However, Graves fears that this isn’t enough; he protests that “We just keep going on [like nothing happens]” and “We just keep doing the same stuff” without making any noticeable difference. Graves doesn’t see autonomous vehicles as a viable answer to distracted driving because driverless trucks are yet another safety issue: “I don’t think people in this country are going to turn loose an 80,000-lb. truck with a driver asleep in the berth.”

Additionally, Graves is concerned about the state of America’s roads and bridges. According to the Washington Post, the condition of roads can cost the average driver an additional $515 per year in maintenance, which adds considerable costs to commercial truckers. Unfortunately, more than 28 percent of our nation’s roads and highways are designated in “poor” condition, meaning they have cracks, holes, and ruts that require more that resurfacing.

Graves explained that the issue with America’s roads is political and economical, as much as anything. He firmly believes that repairing and renewing the road and highway system will lead to a boost in the economy, even if the endeavor is expensive. Graves stated, “Estimates say we need to spend $100 to 170 billion. Currently we spend about $60 billion.”

During his tenure as ATA president, Bill Graves has done much to improve the reputation and productivity of the trucking industry, but there is only so much he and his organization can do. Trucking companies, the American government, and the people who benefit from commercial trucks must heed Graves’s words to build a better infrastructure for trucking to flourish.