Times are Tough,
But Trucking is up for the Challenge

Statistics now show that trucking is the safest it has been since the U.S. Department of Transportation began keeping those numbers in 1975. Even in today’s economic downturn the trucking industry continues to constantly seek ways to improve our efficiency and safety through new programs and technologies.

By Bill Graves

The trucking industry has never been safer. Diesel trucks have never been cleaner.

Despite the progressive approach the trucking industry has taken to achieve these favorable results, the truth is that the industry today faces awfully tough times. While record-high fuel prices eased after devastating the industry last year, the economic slowdown continues to drastically reduce freight volumes, and instability on Wall Street severely affects the credit markets that trucking companies operators rely on for the capital to run their businesses.

I’m not confident anyone knows if we’ve bottomed out, or how long it will take for an economic recovery to occur.

We in the trucking industry work every day to ensure that people in every city and the farthest corners of the continent have the food, medicine, clothing and fuel that they need to live, and the consumer goods that make their lives comfortable. Trucking is essential for supporting the quality of life we enjoy in North America—a quality of life that makes us the envy of others around the globe.

Our industry is one that demands that we continually evolve. We’re constantly seeking ways to improve our efficiency and safety through new programs and technologies, like speed governors, electronic on-board recorders and a national clearinghouse for alcohol and drug information. It’s almost impossible to appreciate the changes that have occurred since my father and my grandfather started Graves Truck Line in 1935. The technological, safety and operational advances that have been made in the last 25 years alone have given the industry an entirely new face. Our industry would be virtually unrecognizable to pioneers of the trucking industry.

Statistics now show that trucking is the safest it has been since the U.S. Department of Transportation began keeping those numbers in 1975. We view the vast improvements in safety as a great victory, but know that even greater strides must be taken. While the industry has experienced a 58-percent reduction in fatal accidents over the past 33 years, the trucking industry’s commitment to all highway users recently prompted a new highway safety agenda to further enhance the safety of all of those who share the roads.

The 18-point plan created by ATA’s Safety Task Force will improve highway safety for auto drivers and passengers by addressing three key areas: creating safer vehicles, making motor carrier companies safer and improving driver performance.

With a growing concern for our environment, ATA has also taken an active approach to address these issues. Our Sustainability Task Force unveiled recommendations in early May that will reduce fuel consumption by 86 billion gallons and CO2 emissions by 900 million tons for all vehicles over the next 10 years. The program’s initial goal of reducing the industry’s carbon footprint was dovetailed onto our economic need to reduce fuel consumption.

Those recommendations are to enact a national speed limit of 65 mph and govern new truck speeds to no more than 65 mph; to pursue a federal solution to reduce both non-discretionary and discretionary idling through incentives for new technology; to encourage participation in the EPA SmartWay program; to advocate for initiatives to improve highway infrastructure and reduce congestion; to advance policies and positions that will allow the use of more productive trucks and to oppose the application of a cap-and-trade regulatory approach for mobile sources.

The message that we consistently deliver on Capitol Hill is our belief in a domestic energy solution that includes “all of the above.” We need more domestic energy production and exploration of alternative fuels. We encourage our industry to continue working together to solve this challenge. Truck and engine manufactures have made this challenge their number-one priority, and their hard work and innovation is laying the foundation for positive and unprecedented change in how freight will be moved by truck throughout America.

Today, on-road diesel engines contribute just one percent of the nation’s total emissions of volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, and less than 1.5 percent of the nation’s total emissions of fine particulate matter.

In aligning with the great measures our industry is taking to reduce emissions of pollutants as well as carbon, the American Trucking Associations firmly supports the requirement for newer, cleaner trucks at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Our criticism of the program is aimed only at unnecessary regulations that have nothing to do with clean air.

ATA also supports the goal of clean air far beyond the ports, and believes the most effective way to reduce the contribution heavy-duty trucks make toward air pollution is to set new engine emission standards in a manner that allows for, and encourages, improvements in productivity and fuel efficiency.

As a result of the more stringent engine and diesel fuel standards that have been established by both CARB and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, nationwide particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen emissions from heavy-duty trucks will be reduced by more than 40 percent by 2010 and by more than 70 percent by 2020, when compared to 2002 levels.

There’s no denying the long road we have ahead of us as we strive to continue meeting the challenges that redefine our industry. Eighty percent of communities throughout our nation depend solely on trucks to deliver the goods they rely on. The trucking industry has a tremendous commitment to the people of the United States, and I have full confidence that we’ll emerge from each challenge better able to serve.

Bill Graves is president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations in Arlington, Va. Prior to joining ATA, Graves was a two-term governor of Kansas.

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