Congress imposes new hurdles for Mexican trucks

The wrangling over expansion of Mexican motor carrier operations in the United States ended – at least for now – on Friday, May 25, when President Bush signed into law emergency funding legislation (H.R. 2207). The bill, stalled for weeks over Iraq War politics, includes language that requires the Department of Transportation to make various disclosures and assurances before it can launch a pilot program to allow Mexico-domiciled carriers to operate beyond the U.S. commercial zone.

In general, the Mexican truck language enacted merges provisions passed by Congress passed originally in late April as part of the emergency funding bill and overwhelmingly by the House on May 15 in H.R. 1773. As provided in the original version of the funding bill, the law requires “simultaneous and comparable authority to operate within Mexico” be given to U.S. carriers in Mexico.

Many of the provisions in H.R. 1773 appear in the final law, which requires that the DOT inspector general certify that DOT “has established sufficient mechanisms to apply federal motor carrier safety laws and regulations to motor carriers domiciled in Mexico that are granted authority to operate beyond the United States municipalities and commercial zones on the United States-Mexico border and to ensure compliance with such laws and regulations.” Prior to the beginning of the pilot program, DOT must address any issues raised in the DOT IG report and report to Congress. In addition, DOT must publish in the Federal Register for comment:

  • Comprehensive data and information on the pre-authorization safety audits conducted before and after the date of enactment of this act of Mexican motor carriers in the program;
  • Specific measures to be required to protect the health and safety of the public, including enforcement measures and penalties for noncompliance;
  • Specific measures to be required to ensure compliance with section 391.11(b)(2) and section 365.501(b) of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations;
  • Specific standards to be used to evaluate the pilot program and compare any change in the level of motor carrier safety as a result of the pilot program; and
  • A list of federal motor carrier safety laws and regulations, including the commercial driver’s license requirements, for which DOT will accept compliance with a corresponding Mexican law or regulation as the equivalent to compliance with the U.S. law or regulation.
  • The DOT IG is to monitor and review the pilot program and report to Congress and DOT six months after the program begins and two months after it ends. The report would address whether (1) DOT has established sufficient mechanisms to determine whether the pilot program is having any adverse effects on motor carrier safety, and (2) federal and state monitoring and enforcement activities are sufficient to ensure that participants in the pilot program are in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

    The provisions of H.R. 1773 were watered down to some extent in the final version in an apparent effort to preserve some flexibility for DOT. For example, the final law does not include measures that required DOT to detail the process for revoking Mexican carrier authority or to specify the penalties it would levy against Mexican carriers that haul goods between points in the United States, as prohibited by law. In addition, the final version omits an independent review panel that would have had authority to change or terminate the pilot program unless DOT acted within five days to address any shortcomings the panel found.

    “This is a significant step forward for safety on our highways,” says James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “It is a further indication of the American people’s concern over the Bush administration’s plans to open the borders without sufficient protections for the traveling public.”