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Consumer and Safety Groups Support Murray/Shelby Provisions in S.1178 on NAFTA Truck Safety Oppose Weakening Amendments

July 23, 2001

Dear Senator,

We strongly urge you to support the Murray/Shelby provisions of S. 1178, the FY 2002 Transportation Appropriations Bill. We hope that the Senate will not be lured into a false sense of security by recent statements of the Administration that the United States can be ready to open the southern border to unrestricted access by trucks and buses from Mexico by January 1, 2002 and this will not jeopardize safety on our highways. It is clear from testimony at last Wednesday s hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General, safety groups and law enforcement representatives that serious problems exist and must be solved before the southern border is opened to commercial traffic.

Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta has repeatedly asserted that trucks and buses from Mexico will meet U.S. safety standards. But reports by the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General, the General Accounting Office, public interest groups and the media indicate that a third to a half of Mexican trucks coming into the border zone areas do not meet U.S. requirements. The Murray/Shelby provisions will guarantee that Mexican trucks and buses that request interstate operating authority to travel on U.S. streets and roads meet U.S. safety rules and laws.

Opponents of the Murray/Shelby provisions are advocating a substitute plan modeled after the inspection system the State of California uses for trucks traveling only in the border zone. This proposal is not adequate for long-haul, interstate commercial vehicle travel from Mexico. While California is to be commended for its investments and inspection capabilities, there are still major deficiencies in the system. For example, California s inspectors cannot at present verify the validity of a truck s U.S. operating authority, and inspection decals which are placed on doors often times illegally end up on different trucks. Furthermore, the California Highway Patrol rejects the "paper certification" approach proposed by the DOT but instead endorses a safety evaluation of Mexican motor carriers prior to awarding these companies interstate operating authority.

The time-line for opening the border, set by the Administration for January 1, 2002, is still irresponsibly short and the U.S. DOT Secretary s objections to the sensible steps required by the Murray/Shelby provisions are ill-founded. The Murray/Shelby provisions include common sense measures that assure the American public is not exposed to the unreasonable risk of catastrophic crashes with dangerous Mexico-domiciled trucks that the U.S. Department of Transportation fails to stop in its rush to meet the January deadline.

Some have suggested that free trade, not safety, is at issue. Our opposition to the DOT s unprepared and lax proposals to implement cross-border trucking is due to serious and legitimate safety concerns, and is not a "ploy" to undermine NAFTA. Like the ten Senators who support NAFTA and yet recently sent a letter to the President outlining their concerns about cross-border trucks, we are sincerely disappointed that implementing the cross-border trucking provisions as proposed by the DOT will compromise safety for the American public.

The NAFTA Arbitral Panel ruling requiring the border to be opened permits the United States to examine applications from Mexico-domiciled trucks on a case-by-case basis and to develop oversight procedures that are particular to Mexican trucks, so long as they are motivated by legitimate safety objectives. The decision to open the border by January 2002 was made by the Administration without any apparent relationship to the lack of preparedness of border inspection resources or the agency s incomplete information infrastructure.

Fundamentally, however, the right choice is to protect the health and safety of American motorists. The Murray/Shelby provisions set out reasonable performance prerequisites for the opening of the border, such as the basic requirement that trucks not be permitted to cross when no inspector is on duty to check them. It would also require that on-site carrier safety evaluations be performed before the trucks in a carrier s fleet are allowed across the border. In contrast, the Administration continues to insist that a paper-based check is sufficient. This approach lacks credibility, given that today there are no permanent inspection facilities in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and American officials are unable to adequately verify the ability of a carrier to comply with U.S. standards and rules. Lastly, the Administration objects to requiring state-of-art technology at border crossings to ensure compliance with U.S. weight laws even though these systems are already in use in California and have been a major deterrent to illegal, overweight trucks that are over-involved in crashes and destroy our roads.

On May 3, 2001, the Administration published three loophole-ridden proposals concerning rules for evaluating Mexican motor carriers and awarding operating authority. The agency closed comments to the docket on July 2nd. Just last week in hearings before Congress, Secretary Mineta presented a new set of proposals which still fail to address many of the outstanding issues, although the Administration concedes that additional border inspection resources are necessary.

The Murray/Shelby provisions represent the only safe and sensible plan to guarantee that opening the NAFTA borders will not compromise highway safety. We urge you to oppose any amendments that would repeal or modify these life-saving provisions.

Sincerely,

 

Jacqueline Gillan                                                                  Joan Claybrook
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety                                 Public Citizen

 

Daphne Izer                                                 Jack Gillis
Parents Against Tired Truckers                     Consumer Federation of America

 

Michael Scippa                                                                  Andrew McGuire
Citizens for Reliable & and Safe Highways                          Trauma Foundation

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