Chris Spear, president and CEO of American Trucking Associations (ATA), joined DriverReach founder and CEO Jeremy Reymer on this week’s episode of Taking the Hire Road to discuss the highly debated DRIVE-Safe Act, ATA’s securement of federal “essential” status for carriers and ensuring facilities stay open throughout the pandemic.

“It’s mind-boggling to me that 49 states allow an 18-year-old to drive a Class 8 [truck] from El Paso, Texas, to Texarkana, Texas, and back with no problem, but you can’t cross into Texarkana, Arkansas; it makes absolutely no sense,” Spear said. He noted the act’s strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and “117 associations have joined our coalition in really underscoring why this bill matters and why it’ll make a difference.”

If approved, the act would grant professional drivers between 18 and 20 years of age the right to operate in interstate commerce. Currently, drivers must be 21 years old to haul freight across state lines.

Spear noted that the bill would require 400 hours of training, of which 240 are spent with an experienced driver riding shotgun. He added that it would also enforce collision mitigation systems, forward-facing cameras and speed limiters be in place for the age demographic, ensuring the utmost safety precautions be taken.

“This is a step towards safety, not away. If you look at what 49 states currently have, it is absolutely night and day,” Spear said. “The DRIVE-Safe Act is much safer than what you’ve got out there.” 

Spear is confident that its growing support among lawmakers and trucking industry leaders will be enough to get it passed into law.  

ATA found itself fighting a multifront battle this past year. In addition to standing at the forefront for the DRIVE-Safe Act, the association persevered in securing federal “essential” status for carriers as the pandemic threatened the flow of interstate commerce. Spear credited ATA’s efforts for persuading governors to keep rest stops and truck stops open throughout the year, as well as hours-of-service exemptions, to give drivers flexibility amid times of hardship, ensuring much-needed supplies can be delivered to stores and medical professionals.

“Our message doesn’t speak to one party or the other; it’s not a Republican or Democrat agenda,” Spear said. “Roads and bridges are for everybody to drive on, including us, and we need to start talking about what’s good for America instead of what’s good for a majority of Republicans or Democrats.”

In its 88-year history, Spear is ATA’s ninth leader — a position he said is an honor to hold.

“I reflect on that regularly, and I don’t take it for granted. Some of the most honest, hardworking and patriotic people in the country exist in this industry, and it’s truly an honor to be in this position.”

He said the industry’s resilient efforts last year give him optimism for the future. “I think we’ve done very well not only representing industry but our industry responding to this crisis and rising to the occasion,” Spear said. “We all knew it was possible, but to see the country observe it firsthand was really impactful.”

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