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Transcript: Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at American Trucking Association 2022 Management Conference & Exhibition

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Thank you. Thanks very much. Good afternoon, it’s such a pleasure to be with you. 

I want to thank President Spear for the kind introduction, especially for the kind acknowledgment of the hard work of our FMCSA team, led by Robin Hutcheson, and my colleagues across the USDOT who I can tell you and as you hopefully see for yourselves, from the inspectors through the headquarters, care deeply about the success of American trucking. I want to thank Chair Sumerford, I want to thank everybody at the ATA, because this organization has been a leader, you’ve been innovative, you've been willing to step up on big challenges, and it is making a difference. 

Since taking on this role, it's been my great honor to spend time with truck drivers, truck owners, and people associated with trucking, in every part of the country.   

I was with fellow Veterans in Pennsylvania telling me about how they view driving as another form of service – certainly true of the truckers I met just Friday in Florida who were among the first to bring relief after Hurricane Ian, including one whose home was severely damaged but all he could talk about was how proud he was of being part of bringing the gravel that was needed to get the Sanibel Causeway back up and running out there. 

I spent some time in the passenger seat of a semi in Illinois with a driver named Lola who talked about her passion for the career. I talked to newer drivers in Arizona describing their pride to be in the industry. And just now, I had the pleasure of being with so many members of America’s Road Team, who just the people in the room with me represented 44 million accident-free miles, and 577 years behind the wheel.  

There’s so much to be proud of. And so much at stake in keeping up the dialogue and the conversation between our Department, our Administration, and everybody who is involved in trucking, which is why I aim to be very brief so we can get on to the conversation.  

But I’m here with a purpose. And the purpose is to express our Administration’s understanding that trucking is absolutely vital to the supply chains that are the backbone of the American economy. As I often say when I’m speaking to different audiences, if you enjoy the clothes that you’re wearing, the food you had for breakfast, whatever device you might be using to watch me speak to you, you have a trucker, or several truckers, to thank for that. 

And after decades of mounting challenges in this industry, and in particular two years of acute challenge and hardship and heroism that has had truck drivers in the national spotlight, and as we come to the first anniversary of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that’s giving us resources we’ve needed for a long time, we are looking at a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen this industry.   

Supporting trucking is not just a priority for me, it is at the heart of two central priorities for President Biden: addressing supply chain disruptions so we can lower costs to families, a vital part of the fight against inflation; and insisting that workers get the pay and the respect that they deserve.   

As you know, the context for this is an urgent, national need. ATA estimates we're short about 80,000 truck drivers. And my department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics estimates that about 300,000 leave the career every year. So we have got to do more to recruit and to retain the men and women we count on every day to get things to where they need to be.  

So what I wanted to do was just briefly touch on three efforts that are underway right now, many of which should be familiar to you because many of you have partnered with us on helping them become a reality. 

First, the actions we are taking to make life better for truckers already in the industry.  

You’re aware, I’m sure, of the President’s Trucking Action Plan, and I hope we can get into it in a little more detail in our conversation. I think it’s fair to call it the most comprehensive federal effort to support trucking in decades. It includes work to improve truck driver pay; truck leasing agreements; the unique challenges that women face in this industry today; and much more.  

Then in January, we launched the National Roadway Safety Strategy, which is a roadmap to drive down the heartbreaking and unacceptable number of traffic deaths that we see each year. Last year, we lost over 800 truck drivers to traffic crashes. And reducing those tragedies is a shared responsibility between government of every level, industry, passenger vehicle drivers, and truck drivers... and you’re gonna hear a lot more about this from us.   

Second, I’ll touch on what we are doing to bring more drivers into the industry in the first place.  

To create debt-free pathways into the career for more people, including more women and people of color who may not in the past have recognized that trucking could be a career for them, we have teamed up with the Department of Labor to more than double the number of registered apprenticeships programs, which means more drivers are entering the profession with high-quality, paid, on-the-job training. And I want to applaud so many of those represented here who have stepped up to become part of that, and urge more to follow in their footsteps. 

We’ve taken steps to streamline the issuing of Commercial Driver’s Licenses – providing additional funding and working with states to remove barriers, which has helped them to add over 543,000 CDLs this year, which is 32% more than the same period in 2019, and 14% more than last year.   

And we’re providing grants to cover tuition costs for Veterans to get training for their CDLs. Driving was one of my responsibilities during my own time in Afghanistan, I know some of the people I served with would make fantastic professional drivers, and we’ve got to make it easier for more Veterans to get into this good career.  

The third piece I want to mention: we’re putting our money where our mouth is to improve safety and reduce delays for truckers.   

One thing we have heard loud and clear, from ATA and from just about every driver and owner we talk to, is we have got to fix the lack of truck parking.   

So in Tennessee, we awarded $22 million to add new truck parking spaces and upgrade ramps and bridges over the Caney Fork River.  

In Florida, $15 million are headed to help construct a new truck parking facility with spaces and electrical hookups there.  

And these are the first grants out of our INFRA program that have been dedicated specifically to expand truck parking capacity.  

We've invested in technology that makes it easier for truck drivers to find parking spots in states across the nation, including Montana, Florida, Texas, Wyoming, and more.  

And we’re encouraging states to use their formula funding from the infrastructure law, which is ultimately a bigger sum than any of our discretionary programs, to expand truck parking... and I have been repeating that message loud and clear in Senate hearings, public and private meetings with state leaders, through new guidance, and in a handbook we created with states on this subject.  

And of course, we are modernizing the roads and bridges themselves. I always think about one trucking industry stakeholder, at one of our roundtables, who reminded me, as he put it, that “infrastructure is our workplace.” And for all of those whose workplace is the very infrastructure of roads, bridges, highways, interchanges, and more, that we’re working on right now, we’re working to make that a better workplace, with funding levels not seen since the Interstate Highway System was created in the first place.  

And this just represents the first year out of five of the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. We’ve got enormous opportunity ahead of us.  

And I know many of you in the audience are working closely with us on many of these efforts – so I want to thank you for that, very sincerely, because every one of these initiatives, especially on roadway safety, requires your continued partnership.  

And I want to express my optimism on everything that we can deliver together.  

My hope is that we will be looking back one day at the 2020s as a period when trucking modernized its future while staying true to its finest traditions. 

So thank you again for your partnership. Thank you very much for the chance to join you. And I’m very, very excited for the road ahead.