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Aug. 1, 2001


In Mexican Truck Debate, Safety Is the Only Issue

Murray/Shelby Would Ensure Mexico-Domiciled Trucks Meet U.S. Standards

One of the most critical decisions about highway safety is scheduled to come this week in the U.S. Senate. Lawmakers will decide under what circumstances to give Mexico-domiciled trucks unrestricted access to this country s roads. President Bush has said that by Jan. 1, 2002, the trucks will be permitted to drive across the nation. The implications are huge. Many involved in this debate have thrown out red herrings to divert the discussion into areas of race and trade,but the key issue is and always has been safety.

Under NAFTA, Mexican trucks must meet U.S. safety standards. But because Mexico has no mandatory standards in a variety of safety categories, it is essential that carriers be inspected by the United States. We are not calling for Mexican carriers to be held to higher standards; we are calling for strong inspection standards to ensure that the trucks are safe enough to travel on U.S. roads.

Only this year has Mexico adopted some truck safety standards, but they are applicable only on federal roads in Mexico (which represent only 10 percent of Mexican roads) and they don t match U.S. standards. Certain failures that would automatically put a U.S. truck out of service such as improperly secured bulky loads, exposed wiring, damaged tires and leaky transport tanks merely invoke a ticket in Mexico. Mexico does not limit the number of hours truckers can be on the road, which means that many of these rigs with safety defects are being driven by exhausted drivers. And although NAFTA required Mexico to implement safety regulations for trucks, Mexico has not yet fulfilled its obligation to bring its safety regulations to a level commensurate with that of the United States and Canada.

It is for this reason that a measure being offered in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is the best way to open the border while ensuring that the trucks coming in will meet U.S. standards. The bill would require on-site inspections of Mexico-domiciled carriers, add inspection facilities, equipment and inspectors to the border crossings, and ensure that Mexican truckers comply with all U.S. safety requirements, including rules governing how long truckers may drive (hours-of-service rules). It is the most sensible alternative.

The Murray-Shelby provision is part of a hot congressional debate on the issue of Mexico-domiciled trucks. On June 26, the House of Representatives by a large margin passed a prohibition on any expenditures by the DOT to process applications for operating authority of Mexican trucks in the United States. On July 23, the Senate began debating the Murray/Shelby provisions, but their proposals were filibustered by Sens. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). The first cloture vote on July 26 was a decisive 70-30 to end the filibuster and was enough to override a threatened veto by President Bush. The second cloture vote on July 27 failed to secure the necessary supermajority of 60 votes because it occurred late on Friday afternoon and 16 senators were absent. The Senate bill pending this week will require another cloture vote before it can be passed and sent to a conference committee to be reconciled with the House version.


The Red Herrings

Many have tried to throw up roadblocks to divert attention from the discussion of safety. Here are some of their fiction-based arguments and explanations of why these arguments crumble under scrutiny.


FICTION: Placing restrictions as proposed by Murray and Shelby would violate NAFTA.

FACT: NAFTA s arbitration panel in February 2001 ruled that the border must be open to Mexico-domiciled trucks. It also said that the United States has the right to enforce its safety regulations and may impose licensing and inspection requirements on Mexican carriers that are not the same as requirements imposed on U.S. and Canadian carriers, as long as they are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The Bush administration has failed to explain why the Murray/Shelby bill is not within the letter and spirit of the ruling.


FICTION: The Murray/Shelby provisions discriminate against Mexico.

FACT: The Murray/Shelby bill does not set higher safety standards for Mexican trucks than U.S. trucks. The measure merely requires a strong and effective inspection system, one that will ensure that Mexican rigs meet U.S. standards when they cross the border. This is not discriminatory because U.S. trucks must meet the same standards. We need to conduct on-site reviews of Mexican carriers in Mexico because it would be a logistical nightmare as well as impossible to conduct thorough safety reviews at the border. On-site inspectors can check logbooks, examine safety records and review a carrier s entire operation. That would enable border inspectors to focus on the weight of the truck and to ensure the driver has a valid license and proof of insurance. On-site safety evaluations of Mexico-domiciled carriers are particularly justified in light of the fact that the Mexican government does not regularly evalute the safety of its motor carriers, while the U.S. and Canadian governments do.

Further, the United States has developed a reciprocal relationship with Canada. In 1982, the United States closed the Canadian border to commercial traffic for two years until Canada agreed to certain reciprocal measures to govern commercial traffic between the two nations. Conducting on-site safety compliance reviews in each other s nation has been a longstanding practice between Canada and the United States, as well as with many other nations under FAA and FDA requirements. (For example, before a foreign air carrier is allowed to operate in the United States, the FAA must conduct an evaluation of the airline s fitness at its place of business in its home country.) Finally, motor vehicle crashes do not discriminate between who will be killed and injured. The Murray/Shelby provisions protect everyone.


                    FICTION: On-site safety reviews of Mexican carriers are unnecessary; paper applications and border inspections will suffice.

FACT: Allowing a Mexican carrier to operate in the United States based solely on a review of a paper application will allow unsafe carriers to gain access to our roads. As DOT Secretary Norman Mineta admitted recently when testifying before congressional lawmakers, the border is understaffed and inspection facilities are poor and inadequate. Further, a paper application doesn t give reviewers as much information about a carrier s operations and allows companies to claim they comply with U.S. standards when an on-site visit would show they do not. With little or no experience in meeting U.S. rules, Mexico-domiciled carriers often do not have a paper record that would produce a useful evaluation of the company s performance.


FICTION: The cost of enacting Shelby/Murray would be prohibitive.

FACT: The cost is tiny compared to the benefits reaped in crashes that would be avoided, lives and property that would be preserved, and roads and bridges that would be undamaged. The DOT has estimated the provisions would cost $83 million less than the cost of reconstructing 100 miles of highway and just a slight portion of the $60 billion DOT appropriations bill. Further, overweight trucks severely damage roads and bridges. It is far more costly to repair this damage than to install weigh-in-motion scales.


FICTION: The provisions would slow trade between Mexico and the United States.

FACT: The provisions would expedite cross-border traffic because safety reviews of Mexican carriers would occur on-site in Mexico, not at the border. Technological improvements included in Murray/Shelby, such as weigh-in-motion scales, and additional border inspectors, would help make border crossings faster and more efficient. Also, delays at the border generally occur because of traffic volume and inspections by other U.S. agencies, such as the Customs agency and Drug Enforcement Agency.


The Murray/Shelby Measure

Provisions of the transportation appropriations bill (H. 2299) authored by Murray and Shelby have been endorsed by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable & Safe Highways (CRASH), the Consumer Federation of America, Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), Public Citizen and the Trauma Foundation.

The provisions would: 1) require a full on-site safety audit of Mexican trucking firms before granting them conditional operating certificates, and follow-up safety compliance reviews within 18 months before a permanent operating certificate is granted; 2) prohibit opening the border to Mexican trucks until a policy is in place to ensure that Mexican truckers comply with all United States safety requirements, including hours-of-service rules; 3) provide funding increases above the administration s request for inspectors and inspection facilities; 4) prohibit opening the border until border crossings have weigh scales; and 5) require an accessible database to permit monitoring the safety performance of all Mexican firms applying for certificates to operate in the United States.

These are needed because the government s own data substantiate safety concerns. Mexico-domiciled carriers were more than three times as likely to have safety deficiencies than U.S. carriers in 2000, according to a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Transportation s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. According to the DOT, Mexico-domiciled trucks are heavier than permitted under U.S. standards and thus pose greater safety dangers. And research shows that large trucks (100,000 pounds) are severely overrepresented in crashes, particularly rollover crashes. Too many crashes involving trucks already occur in the United States (more than 5,300 people killed annually and 142,000 injured). It would be folly to invite unsafe trucks driven by exhausted drivers onto our highways.

The Bush administration s proposal for opening the border is inadequate because it would allow Mexican carriers to operate on U.S. roads for 18 months before a comprehensive safety evaluation. Also, the federal government would evaluate the safety of Mexican carriers by relying heavily on a database lacking basic information.

Nineteen Republicans voted with all 50 Democrats and Sen. James Jeffords (Vt.) to end the filibuster in the first cloture vote. They include Sens. Christopher Bond (Mo.), Sen. Brownback (Kan.), Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.), Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), John Ensign (Nev.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), James Inhofe (Okla.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Rick Santorum (Penn.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), Robert Smith (N.H.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Arlen Specter (Penn.), Ted Stevens (Alaska) and John Warner (Va.).

President Bush has threatened to veto either the House or Senate version of the legislation and is lobbying many of these Republican supporters of strong inspection standards to oppose the Murray/Shelby provisions. The outcome will be determined this week.

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