Feb. 23, 2007

Highway Safety Organizations Urge Congressional Oversight Hearings on Opening Southern Border to Mexico-Domiciled, Long-Haul Trucks

Administration Announces Plan Despite Serious Safety Problems

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Highway safety groups today sent a letter to the Democratic and Republican leaders of key committees urging oversight hearings following the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) announcement that it will open the southern U.S. border to 100 long-haul, interstate trucking companies from Mexico. In 2001, safety groups supported bi-partisan legislation (Public Law 107-87, December 18, 2001) adopted in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate that put the brakes on opening the border until basic safety measures and procedures were in place. 

Among the benchmarks are requirements for safety audits at Mexican trucking company places of business to determine each motor carrier’s safety management quality before awarding operating authority, the elimination of inaccurate data about Mexico-domiciled trucks and drivers provided to U.S. authorities, adequate border safety inspection facilities and certified random drug and alcohol testing already required of U.S. truck drivers. In a 2005 report, the U.S. DOT Inspector General (IG) found that many of those benchmarks had not been met. Another IG report is due to be issued in about two months.

“Congress had to step in more than five years ago and stop the administration from opening the border until an adequate level of safety was achieved,” said Jacqueline Gillan, vice-president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates). “Now Congress needs to step in again. There is an urgent need for oversight hearings on safety and security issues before the DOT rushes to open the southern border.”

Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, stressed that several current facts about Mexico-domiciled trucks entering the United States are still highly disturbing and show that the border is not ready for a surge in these long-haul trucks traveling freely throughout the country. 

“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) admits that many states have not authorized law enforcement to stop trucks without legal registration and operating authority from hauling their cargo,” said Claybrook. “Yet FMCSA has documented that one in five short-haul trucks currently crossing the border is being placed out of service because of equipment defects.”

Other facts also raise alarms about the consequences of Mexico-domiciled trucks and drivers traveling throughout the United States. “Mexican truck drivers are frequently attempting to cross into the U.S. border zone without valid driver licenses or even with no licenses,” said Gerald Donaldson, senior research director for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “In fact, the latest figures from FMCSA show that almost one in four Mexican drivers does not even have a Mexican commercial driver license when trying to cross into the United States.”

FMCSA to date has a poor record of investigating Mexican truck safety. The agency’s safety Compliance Reviews of Mexico-domiciled trucks coming across the southern border, for example, have plunged from 268 in 2003 to 236 in 2004, and down to only 106 in 2005.

Donaldson also emphasized that there are other serious, chronic safety issues. “When Mexico-domiciled trucks haul hazardous materials, almost one in four trucks uses prohibited signs on its rigs that don’t say what kind of dangerous cargo is on board,” he said.

In addition, driver fatigue, a widespread industry problem that contributes to truck-related crashes, is a major safety concern for truck drivers entering the United States. “I am deeply troubled that DOT is looking the other way on the problem of fatigued and sleep-deprived Mexican truck drivers,” said John Lannen, the executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, an umbrella group representing Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.). “The U.S. DOT knows that more than 15 percent of Mexican truck drivers entering the United States don’t even have the paper logbooks that are currently required to show the amount of working, driving and rest time. We have no proof that Mexican drivers will not continue to flout U.S. limits on driving time and fail to keep proper time records,” he stressed.

“The problem of adequate enforcement of hours of service rules is compounded by a weak and ineffective proposed rule recently issued by FMCSA,” added Claybrook. “The agency has decided not to mandate Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) for all big trucks to prove how many hours they are on the road and assist police in enforcing the laws that restrict driving time. For trucks crossing the border, this is a particular problem because drivers could have nearly exhausted their hours of service limits by the time they enter the United States, and officials won’t be able to enforce any limits.”

Safety organizations have tried for months to determine what plans were being made by the administration to open the southern border to long-haul, Mexico-domiciled trucks. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was filed with FMCSA on October 17, 2006. The law requires the agency to provide the documents within 20 business days but the agency has not provided any records in more than three and a half months. 

“Withholding agency records on this issue that should be made public underscores the need for oversight hearings in Congress,” said Gillan.

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