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In Mexican Truck Debate, Safety Is the Only Issue

Aug. 1, 2001

In Mexican Truck Debate, Safety Is the Only Issue

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

Opponents of the Murray/Shelby measure, who have tried to distort the issue of dangerous Mexican trucks, aren?t getting the message. What Americans worry about is their safety and their family?s safety when they are on the highway. They don?t know where the trucks or their drivers are from. They just want to know that the trucks aren?t leaking hazardous materials, riding on balding tires or lacking strong brakes. The measure authored by Senators Patty Murray and Richard Shelby is not discriminatory or unfair, and it does not constitute a violation of free trade. It?s all about safety.

The Murray/Shelby provision in the DOT appropriations bill will ensure that Mexico-domiciled trucks meet the same safety standards as U.S. and Canadian trucks. This is particularly critical because truck safety standards in Mexico don?t match those in the United States or Canada. I cannot be more clear: We are not calling for Mexico-domiciled carriers to be held to higher standards; we are calling for strong inspections to ensure that the trucks are safe enough to travel on U.S. roads. Murray/Shelby assures that Mexico-domiciled trucks do in fact meet U.S. standards.

This complies with NAFTA. NAFTA?s arbitration panel in February ruled that while the border must open, the United States has the right to enforce its safety regulations. The United States also may require thorough inspections of Mexican carriers ? even if they are not the same as inspections of U.S. and Canadian carriers ? as long as they are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This trade pact was never meant to be a suicide pact.

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 check logbooks, examine safety records and review a carrier?s entire operation. But we need border inspections too. Border inspectors check the weight of trucks and ensure that drivers have a valid license and proof of insurance.

Our opponents don?t mention that 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. They also don?t mention that conducting on-site compliance reviews is a longstanding practice between the United States and many other nations. Before a foreign air carrier can operate here, for instance, the FAA conducts an on-site evaluation of the carrier?s operations in its home country. And carriers in 13 countries today are not allowed to land in the United States.

Every year, more than 5,000 people are killed and another 140,000 injured in the United States in crashes involving large trucks. We should not increase these numbers by negligently allowing unsafe vehicles on our roads. Poll after poll shows that Americans want strong truck safety standards. The stakes here are high for the motoring public, and a clear majority of the Senate understands that. It is time to stop gambling with the lives of motorists on our roads. The Senate must eliminate the roadblocks and pass this bill.


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