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Nov. 27, 2002

Taking the Low Road: Bush Administration Tries to Slip Controversial Mexican Truck Decision Under Radar Screen; Safety Problems Remain

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

It is ironic that just hours before the Thanksgiving holiday is to begin – and millions of people hit the highways – the Bush administration has revealed its decision to allow Mexico-domiciled trucks unfettered access to U.S. roads. This attempt to slip such a controversial action under the radar screen shows that the administration does not really want to alert the American public to its decision. Perhaps that is because despite the government’s claims that it has taken measures to limit the dangers associated with allowing these trucks on the highways, serious problems remain. Most of these problems arise from loopholes the Bush administration had tucked into the law addressing the border opening:

  • Mexico-domiciled carriers with three or fewer trucks need not undergo on-site safety audits prior to being given authority to operate in the United States;
  • On-site safety audits must cover only 50 percent of the number of trucks crossing the border;
  • There is no mechanism for tracking the movement of hazardous materials across the border, which could add to the terrorist threat;
  • At the border, electronic verification of driver licenses is required only for 50 percent of drivers transporting non-hazardous materials;
  • Equipment needed to weigh trucks as they cross the border is missing at many border crossings;
  • There is no mechanism for checking the validity and adequacy of insurance coverage for Mexico-domiciled carriers;
  • While there is a requirement for truckers while in the United States to maintain logbooks showing how long they have been on the road, there is no logbook requirement in Mexico. Therefore, there is no way for U.S. inspectors to know how long Mexican truckers have been on the road and how tired they are when the drivers arrive at the border. It is important to note that Congress ordered the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to revise hours-of-service rules by 1999, but DOT has failed to act, which is why Public Citizen and three other groups filed suit against the government yesterday;
  • Mexico-domiciled trucks emit far more hazardous emissions than typical U.S. trucks and may damage air quality, particularly in areas struggling to comply with the Clean Air Act;
  • There is nothing to stop the 459 new Mexico-domiciled carriers licensed to operate within the border zone from driving into the interior of the United States, a prospect that is worrisome because these carriers will not undergo any of the same safety inspections as licensed long-haul carriers;
  • Few, if any, of the inspection stations in Texas, where more than 65 percent of the trucks now cross, are permanent facilities. It will take years for the government to buy the land and construct needed permanent facilities;
  • There is a good chance that the pressure to get trucks moving swiftly will lead to corner-cutting on safety. We’ve seen how the administration bends and changes rules to accommodate its friends in industry. If President Bush decides to help the multinational companies that want the border open – many of which are partially owned by U.S. companies that give major campaign contributions to Bush – you can be sure the administration will open whatever doors it can.

The hallmark of the Bush administration is just this kind of sneaky dealing. Given that there is still no mechanism for Americans injured in crashes with Mexico-domiciled trucks to sue the carriers for damages, or for states and localities to control the air pollution the trucks will bring, today’s action is premature at best and shows reckless disregard for the safety of drivers and the health of our environment.

* Note: Joan Claybrook was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1977 to 1981.

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