Nov. 30, 2001

Compromise on Mexican Trucks Is a Major Step Forward, but Implementation Must Be Carefully Monitored

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

The deal lawmakers have struck detailing the circumstances under which U.S. highways will be open to Mexican trucks is a solid compromise that will enhance public safety. But it must be carefully monitored for two reasons: one, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) continually has ignored congressional mandates; and two, there are some loopholes that may be exploited.

Under the deal, the United States will conduct on-site inspections in Mexico of at least half the Mexico-domiciled carriers that will be sending trucks into the United States. On-site inspections are necessary to ensure that truck companies are legitimate and have good safety records and defect-free equipment. While we are very pleased that lawmakers and the White House realized the necessity of these inspections, checking only 50 percent of the carriers will not ensure that all trucks crossing into the United States meet our safety standards.

Similarly, there will be no inspections of trucks that operate solely within the 20-mile border zone, and Mexican carriers with three or fewer trucks need not receive on-site inspections before securing either interim or permanent operating authority to send trucks into the United States. By comparison, U.S. trucks must have on-site inspections before getting permanent operating authority. Further, electronic verification of driver?s licenses will be required for just half of the drivers crossing the border; it would be best to check all licenses.

How well this compromise works depends on how well it is implemented. It does not bode well that the FMSCA has failed repeatedly to issue crucial safety rules mandated by Congress. We call on the Department of Transportation?s Inspector General to carefully monitor the implementation of this measure, and we urge lawmakers to conduct oversight hearings beginning next year. Future legislation might be necessary to strengthen the safety provisions.

Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) should be applauded for their persistence, determination and hard work in coaxing colleagues to bolster safety on our highways. We also thank Rep. Martin Sabo (D-Minn.) for his initiative in the House and Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) for his support. We are pleased that lawmakers who worked out the compromise paid close attention to concerns about hazardous materials raised by consumer groups, as evidenced by new protections included in the bill.

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