Moving America Forward

The American Trucking Association
Written by Grace McDermott

Founded in 1933, the American Trucking Association (ATA) has been “developing and advocating innovative, research-based policies that promote highway safety, security, environmental sustainability and profitability.” The ATA is a federation, made up of motor carriers, allied members, state trucking associations and councils and conferences, bringing together some of the most influential voices from across the industry.
The ATA’s biggest achievements include important legislation, contributions to environmental sustainability, significant work with veterans and, most importantly, progressive improvements in road safety. Several leading ATA members provided us insight into the people and trends pushing trucking forward.

Trucking plays a major part in nearly every American’s everyday life. As Pat Thomas, the ATA chairman put it, “trucking is the engine that helps keep the American economy moving.” Nearly 70% of all the freight moved throughout the U.S. is moved at some point by truck. This means, the every time you receive a package, go grocery shopping, or even visit a hospital, the chances are a truck was involved somewhere down the line.

To put into perspective just how essential the $75 billion dollar industry is, just look at its size. It is more than four times larger than all other modes of freight transportation combined. Kevin Burch, ATA First Vice Chairman and President stated, “We are involved in everything that moves America, and I don’t think people quite understand just how essential trucking is.”

One of the ATA’s most significant contributions is its legislative endeavors. Working closely alongside policy makers and the wider population, the ATA leads the national conversation on trucking. It provides insight, research and education to the U.S. public and is responsible for many of the essential transport improvements that have happened in the last decade.

As one of the largest industries in the country, trucking affects and is affected by environmental, infrastructural and economic factors. The ATA brings together powerful voices from across the industry, presenting a unified front on the tough issues. “Given the size and diversity of the trucking industry, we know that we can only succeed in the advocacy arena if we are united,” said ATA Chairman Pat Thomas.

The last year has been pivotal for infrastructure development in the U.S. Since our roads, bridges, water systems and wider transportation networks face serious threats if not improved, state and local governments have begun giving serious consideration to these issues. Poor infrastructure has inevitable impacts on the economy as a whole, hindering transport access to commuters, businesses and distributors.

The ATA has worked tirelessly to affect this change. Most recently, the ATA helped to influence the passing of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a five-year bill that will provide $281 billion in funding for the improvement of the country’s roads, bridges and other surface transportation needs. President Obama signed the bill on December 4th, 2015. Among its benefits are changes which will contribute directly to the future of trucking since it also contained guidelines regarding safety monitoring and drug testing for drivers. The act also supports necessary programs that would provide an easier entry to trucking employment for veterans returning home from military service.

The association’s achievements in legislation and infrastructure are significant, but few goals rival its work in improving safety for both truckers and motorists. Along with new protections in line with the FAST Act, the ATA also heads the national Share the Road highway safety program which has been running since 1986. The program works to provide education to the media and the wider public on issues of trucking and road safety. Million-mile accident-free truck drivers work as ambassadors of safety, leading the program’s news conferences and truck safety simulations.

Working with industry partners that include Mack Trucks, Michelin, public policy makers, the media and community leaders, the Share the Road program is changing driving behavior and saving lives. In the past decade, the fatality rate of accidents involving trucks has dropped 40%, due, in part, to the contributions of the ATA and the program. Mr. Burch explained, “We are big trucks that take up a lot of room on the road, because of that; it is important that we learn to share the road. Also, it is essential that the public understand the experience of truck drivers. We are working to change the perception of trucking through road safety.”

One major challenge facing the trucking industry comes in the form of attracting fresh talent. Trucking is in need of new drivers and quickly. With a current a deficit of roughly 48,000 drivers, one of the ATA’s biggest focuses is in recruiting new and qualified workers. Dave Manning, the ATA second vice chairman, said: “Trucking moves America forward, but we can’t do it without safe, dependable and professional drivers behind the wheel.”

The driver shortage is influenced by misconceptions about the role of truck driving and an aging workforce. However, the driver shortage has resulted in good news for those seeking a career change, and as the professional growth opportunities, salaries and lifestyle benefits of working in the sector come to light, the ATA is confident the number of drivers will soon rise.

Contrary to popular belief, a trucking career is extremely lucrative and more accommodating than ever before. Lifestyle is an important piece of a career and, with the development of new technologies and innovations, creature comforts have become an integral part of trucking. In recent years, amenities inside the trucks have vastly improved and so have the generous benefits schemes. Moreover, trucking routes are now more flexible, giving drivers a measure of control over their schedules and providing the opportunity to spend more time at home.

Although the lifestyle improvements in trucking have become a major draw, the earning potential is by far its biggest selling point. As a result of the driver shortage, trucking salaries have risen phenomenally, and some are now transitioning from other professional areas. Aside from driving itself, the industry hosts a range of other career opportunities. The number of professionals working in directly-related service industries is in the millions with technicians, dispatchers, mechanics and even insurance brokers.

Military veterans have historically represented a large portion of the country’s truck drivers. As a result of their experience, safety-mindedness and work ethic, veterans are a great match for trucking. At the same time, trucking can offer them a smooth transition into a stable and lucrative career. In 2014, the ATA decided to take this commitment one step further with the development of the Hiring Our Heroes initiative. In conjunction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the ATA committed to hiring 100,000 veterans and to match returning soldiers with fleet openings.

As the ATA continues to work with legislators and the wider trucking sector, the demographics of the workforce are shifting, and a growing number of women are beginning to enter the space. ATA President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Graves said, “These are great paying jobs, and they are not jobs that can be exported. With all the advancements in technology, these can be really exciting jobs. The challenge is finding the right individuals.”

Trucking is not only a part of our nation’s history, but is an ever-evolving piece of our future. Trucking’s contributions to the U.S. economy are undeniable, but, quite possibly, some of the ATA’s most significant work is its commitment to veterans and the environment.

The ATA’s support of the Trucking Moves America Forward program which was launched in 2014, is a prime example of this proactive approach. With the help of the ATA and other industry leaders, the education and outreach program has contributed to the revitalization of the trucking sector. A growing number of professionals are speaking about the career opportunities and values of the trucking community, and many people across the nation are being introduced to the importance of trucking.

In addition to public education, the ATA has been dedicated to improving the sector’s environmental impact and carbon footprint and has become a leader in the pursuit of cleaner transport. Governor Graves stated, “Trucking is safe; trucking is essential, but, trucking is also sustainable.”

In recent years, the ATA was honored as one of the top three SmartWay Affiliates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It was selected for its environment-centric legislative endeavors, its practices dedicated to reducing emissions, as well as its achievements in improving freight efficiency.

The trucking industry’s success will continue to be driven by the committed professionals working behind the wheel. “Our nation’s goods move successfully by truck because of the great people that call trucking their profession,” Dave Manning concluded. “The excellent people we have are the thing that makes me proudest of this industry.”



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