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July 18, 2001

Bush Administration’s Proposals for Mexican Trucks Inadequate, Would Allow Unsafe Vehicles on U.S. Roads, Public Citizen Tells Lawmakers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush administration’s proposed rules and policies outlined in testimony today concerning the admission of Mexican trucks into the United States are inadequate and would allow unsafe vehicles on the roads, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook today told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Secretary Norman Mineta’s testimony did little to assure members of Congress and the public that the safety improvements needed could be achieved by Jan. 1, 2002, the date set by the Bush administration to open the border.

Each year, more than 5,300 people are killed and 142,000 injured in crashes involving large trucks. Yet the Bush administration would allow an influx of dangerous trucks that could cause those numbers to spike.

"The Bush administration has adopted the course of action that is least likely to protect public safety," Claybrook said. "The government wants to make guinea pigs of U.S. motorists by testing the safety of Mexican carriers on them."

NAFTA required the United States to open its border to Mexican truck traffic within 20-miles of the border beginning in 1995 and nationwide on Jan. 1, 2000. NAFTA also required Mexico to draft and implement truck safety regulations equal to those of Canada and the United States, but the agreement failed to link the improvements to the timeline for opening the border. A Public Citizen analysis shows that Mexican truck safety rules are still deficient.

Because of concerns about the safety of Mexican trucks, the Clinton administration refused to open the border beyond a limited zone. In February 2001, a NAFTA arbitration panel ruled that the United States was violating NAFTA and would have to open the border, but it gave the United States the latitude to draft procedures to ensure Mexican carriers comply with U.S. regulations. However, the Bush administration’s proposals are inadequate because:

They would allow Mexican carriers to operate on U.S. roads for at least 18 months before any safety audit. Even then, the review of a Mexican carrier would not have to be performed on-site. Evaluation of the safety fitness for U.S. carriers in compliance reviews, however, must occur on-site.

The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) intends to evaluate the safety fitness of Mexican carriers by relying heavily on a database that lacks the basic information necessary to perform a safety review. This clearly is inadequate. An on-site audit should be required.

The U.S. government would give Mexican carriers an 18-month "safe harbor" for certain offenses that now lead to fines or criminal penalties for U.S. carriers that are repeat offenders. These offenses include operating without insurance and using drivers who have tested positive for drugs and alcohol.

Further, there aren’t enough border inspectors to check trucks, and border crossings lack equipment, Claybrook said. During a recent study by the Department of Transportation Inspector General, investigators visited 27 border crossings and found that 20 crossings lacked dedicated phone lines to access databases, while at 19 crossings inspectors had space to inspect only one or two trucks at a time. There are no permanent inspection facilities in Texas, where most Mexican trucks cross into the United States.

Claybrook recommended a number of measures, including the following:

The United States should conduct on-site safety reviews of Mexican carriers prior to granting them permission to operate on U.S. roads;

Mexican carriers should be required to pass a proficiency test to demonstrate their knowledge of U.S. laws and safety regulations;

Many more border inspectors should be hired and trained, and crossings should have weigh-in-motion devices, dedicated phone lines to access driver license databases and plenty of space for inspections;

The border should remain closed until we can ensure that Mexican carriers comply with U.S. hours-of-service rules and until Mexico can assure the United States that Mexico’s information infrastructure is accurate and functional.A substantial percentage of the trucks crossing the border should be inspected, including for such things as licenses, certificates of registration and proof of insurance.

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