Feb. 7, 2001
Mexican Truck Inspection Program Sorely Lacking, Allows Trucks with Faulty Brakes, Leaky Fuel Lines to Stay on Road
Lack of Rules Is Worrisome in Light of NAFTA Panel Order for U.S. to Give Mexican Trucks Access to All U.S. Roads
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Mexico’s truck inspection system, instituted in response to the United States’ concerns about dangerous rigs, is riddled with holes that allow vehicles with major safety defects to stay on the road, a Public Citizen analysis has found.
Mexico’s program is particularly critical in light of a ruling issued Tuesday ordering the U.S. to permit Mexican trucks to have access to all U.S. roads. If the Bush administration as expected complies with the panel’s order — rather than pay trade sanctions — U.S. highways may soon be flooded with trucks from Mexico.
Under Mexico’s new program, which is voluntary for the first year, safety defects that merely incur a fine and a request that the problem be fixed within 20 days would cause a truck in the U.S. to be removed from the road. These defects include improperly stored hazardous materials, missing fuses, worn or exposed wires, a lack of windshield wipers, a shattered windshield, damaged tires, broken wheel rims, leaky fuel lines, worn or cracked load securement chains, loose steering wheels, cracked brake drums and inoperative brake linings.
“We can’t afford to invite trucks with balding tires, slipshod brakes, leaky exhaust systems, and bad steering wheels to roam freely on our roads,” said Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen president and former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Mexico has made an effort to begin addressing these issues, but it falls way short of the mark. Until the country has a stringent set of standards that are enforced, we shouldn’t allow these trucks to have unlimited access to our highways.”
On Tuesday, a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) tribunal found the U.S. has been violating NAFTA because it has limited access of Mexican trucks to a narrow 20-mile commercial zone along the border. NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, required the U.S. to allow Mexican trucks access to all border-state roads starting in 1995, and to drive anywhere in the country by January 2000. The Clinton administration recognized the danger the trucks posed and for seven years refused to expand their access beyond a 20-mile radius from the border.
According to the panel, the U.S. may enforce its own standards on any trucks traveling in the U.S. But doing so effectively would require a legion of federal and state inspectors, and the U.S. lacks personnel and facilities to check most Mexican trucks. In fact, data show fewer than 1 percent of the four million Mexican trucks entering the U.S. now are inspected (and 35 percent of those are taken out of service for safety failures).
In July, Mexico established a set of fledgling standards for commercial trucks, but they are greatly lacking, Public Citizen has found. The rules provide for roadside inspections only on Mexico’s federal highways, which constitute only 10 percent of Mexico’s roads. Most rules for critical items such as tires, headlights and hazardous materials are voluntary for the first year. Even once they become mandatory, the rules are far from comprehensive. Public Citizen also found that:
Industries that will profit from the lack of adequate safety rules for trucks crossing the border had a heavy hand in crafting Mexico’s safety regulations;
Mexico’s inspection rules set a maximum time limit of 30 minutes for an inspection of a general cargo carrier and limits inspection of a hazardous materials carrier to 20 minutes — not nearly enough time for a thorough inspection. In contrast, the U.S. sets no time limit for inspections; and,
Mexico sets no limit on the hours a commercial driver may drive. Rather, the company sets the limit. The U.S., in contrast, has hours-of-service rules that play a critical role in reducing crashes caused by drowsy drivers (even though they should be shorter).
Read the translated text of the Mexican regulations, available in PDF format at here.
Read a more comprehensive report, The Coming NAFTA Crash, on the serious safety hazards of the NAFTA panel decision and the options open to the Bush administration.