Working together for a safe, sustainable future

In 2006 the U.S. population reached 300 million, and it will be 400 million by 2043. As the number of houses and businesses increases, so will the number of trucks on the road. Trucks transport nearly 100 percent of all consumer goods and about 70 percent of overall freight tonnage in the United States, representing 71 percent of the nation’s freight value.

By Bill Graves

In 2006 the U.S. population reached 300 million, and it will be 400 million by 2043. As the number of houses and businesses increases, so will the number of trucks on the road. Trucks transport nearly 100 percent of all consumer goods and about 70 percent of overall freight tonnage in the United States, representing 71 percent of the nation’s freight value.

The trucking industry works every day to ensure that people in 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 the quality of life we enjoy in North America—a quality of life that makes us the envy of others around the globe.

While trucks handle the majority of our continent’s freight, we must partner with other modes of freight transportation to meet future demands. Our investments must recognize the contributions of all modes and utilize all of our resources to form the most efficient freight transportation system possible.

Infrastructure improvements are necessary for handling future freight demands, and ATA members are prepared to pay more for these improvements. As an industry, we want to see our money dedicated to highway projects that relieve congestion and add capacity. This will allow for greater movement of freight and will squeeze inefficiency out of the supply chain. The federal fuel tax is still the most viable funding source for these improvements and it will continue to be the best method for some time.

People refer to a decline in vehicle miles traveled and a rise in fuel-efficient vehicles as reasons the fuel tax is rapidly becoming obsolete, but the trucking industry’s vehicle miles over the long run will increase, not decrease. Our contribution to the Highway Trust Fund is down due to dramatic reductions in Federal Excise Tax collections on new tractors, which, in this economy, no one is buying.

To ensure the Trust Fund stays solvent, the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission recently recommended a transition from the fuel tax to a Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax (VMTT) by 2020. The strategy calls for a 10-cent increase in the fuel tax for automobiles and a 15-cent increase for trucks. Trucks already pay six cents more per gallon than do autos.

While the solution in 10 years may be to institute a VMTT, let’s not use that as an excuse to avoid what needs to be done today. We’re facing a huge political challenge. No one wants to raise taxes, although that’s what we should do in the short term to fund highway infrastructure. Republicans believe an “anti-tax” stance will restore their political relevance, and Democrats want to avoid the tax-happy label. But the trucking industry understands that you can’t get something for nothing—which is why we’ve asked for an increase in fuel taxes to pay for highway improvements.

The trucking industry has taken tremendous strides toward a cleaner, more sustainable future. Engine and truck manufacturers and the transportation industry have worked together to meet substantial improvements in EPA engine emission and fuel standards in 2002, 2007 and 2010.

On-road diesel engines now 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. We are reducing greenhouse gas emissions by becoming more fuel-efficient—through aerodynamics, low-rolling-resistance tires, auxiliary power units, driver training and route optimization.

Today’s trucking industry is the cleanest and safest it’s ever been. The Federal Highway Administration says the truck-involved fatality rate in 2007 declined 5.8 percent to 2.12 per 100 million miles from 2.25 per 100 million in 2006. That’s the lowest fatality rate since the Department of Transportation began keeping records in 1975. ATA will continue to build upon this achievement through our aggressive safety agenda that includes promoting greater safety belt use by commercial drivers; re-instituting a national maximum speed limit; instituting a system of speed-governing of all new trucks; and a decade-long initiative to create a national clearinghouse for drug and alcohol test results.

We’ve made vast improvements in safety and sustainability, but trucking still faces many challenges as we continue delivering the goods North America relies on. We must work together to become more productive, more efficient and more conscious of our effect on the environment.

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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