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Mr. President, I want to address the issue of Mexican trucks, which was discussed yesterday evening by a number of Senators. I want to discuss the provisions in the Committee bill and explain to my colleagues why it is critical that the Senate include these strong safety requirements in the bill we send to conference.

The ratification of NAFTA seven years ago anticipated a period when trucks from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico would have free reign to service clients across the three countries. This was not really a change in policy as it pertained to Canada since the United States and Canada had reciprocal trucking agreements in place long before NAFTA was ratified. However, it did require a change when it came to truck traffic between the U.S. and Mexico. For several years, the opening up of the border between these two countries was effectively put on hold by the Administration due to their concerns over the absence of reasonable safety standards for trucks operating in Mexico. While Mexican trucks have been allowed to operate between Mexico and a defined commercial zone along the border, the safety record of those trucks has been abysmal.

The Department of Transportation Inspector General, the General Accounting Office and others have published a number of reports, documenting the safety hazards presented by the current crop of Mexican trucks crossing the border. Before the Commerce Committee last week, the IG testified about instances where trucks have crossed the border literally with no brakes. Officials with the IG's office have visited every border crossing between the U.S. and Mexico and have documented cases of Mexican trucks entering the U.S. that were grossly over weight, had no registration or insurance, and had unlicensed drivers.

Mr. President, this chart shows the likelihood that trucks will be ordered off the road by U.S. truck inspectors. According to the DOT's most recent figures, Mexican trucks are 50 percent more likely to be ordered off the road for severe safety deficiencies than U.S. trucks. Mexican trucks are more than 2.5 times more likely to be ordered off the road than Canadian trucks. Also, Mexican trucks have been routinely violating the current restrictions that limit their area of travel to the 20-mile commercial zones.

The DOT IG found that 52 Mexican trucking firms have operated improperly in over 26 states outside the four southern border states. An additional 200 trucking firms violated the restriction to stay within the commercial zone in the border states. Mexican trucks have been found to be operating illegally as far away from the Mexican border as New York State in the Northeast and Washington in the Northwest. The IG reported on one shocking case where a Mexican truck was found on its way to Florida to deliver furniture. When the vehicle was pulled over, the driver had no log-book and no license. There have been experiences like this in half of the states in the continental U.S. Given this deplorable safety record, the official position of the United States Government since the ratification of NAFTA, was that the border could not be opened to cross-border trucking because of the safety risks involved.

Two things have caused a change in this policy. First, a new Administration has come into power — one that believes that the border should be open. Second, the Mexican Government successfully brought a case before a NAFTA Arbitration Panel. That panel ruled that the U.S. Government must initiate efforts to open the border to cross-border trucking. This new policy brought about a frenzy of activity at the Department of Transportation so that the border could be opened to cross-border trucking as soon as this Autumn. The agency has hastily cobbled together a series of measures intended to give U.S. citizens a false sense of security that this new influx of Mexican trucks will not present a safety risk. These measures have been reviewed by both the House and Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittees and have been found to be woefully inadequate.

When the House debated the Transportation Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2002, its concerns about the inadequacy of the DOT's safety measures were so grave that they resulted in an amendment being adopted on the floor of the House that prohibited the DOT from granting operating authority to any Mexico-domiciled trucking company during fiscal year 2002. That amendment passed by a 2 to 1 margin (285-143). By the time the Transportation bill left the House, it had been stripped of every penny of the $88 million that the Administration requested to improve the truck safety inspection capacity at the border. The administration's approach is to allow Mexican trucks to come in and to inspect them later. At the other extreme, the House approach is to prevent Mexican trucks from coming in, and to refuse to inspect them at all.

Senator Shelby and I have written a common-sense compromise that will inspect all Mexican trucks and then let them in. Just as we require Americans to pass a driving test before they get a license, the bipartisan Senate bill requires Mexican trucks to pass an inspection before they can operate on our roads. First, the bill includes $103 million -- $15 million more than the President's request -- for border truck safety activities. Second, the bill establishes several enhanced truck safety requirements to ensure that this new cross-border trucking activity does not pose a safety risk. The enhanced safety provisions included in the Senate bill were developed based on the recommendations that the Committee reviewed from the DOT Inspector General, the General Accounting Office, and law enforcement authorities, including the highway patrols of the states along the border.

They will ensure that there is an adequate safety regime in place before our borders are opened to cross-border trucking. The provision was approved unanimously by both the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee and the Full Appropriations Committee.

In a moment, I will review the Committee's safety recommendations in detail. But first, I want to address the issue of compliance with NAFTA. I have heard it alleged, that the provision adopted unanimously by the Committee is in violation of NAFTA. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I voted for NAFTA and I support free trade. My goal is to ensure that free trade and public safety progress side by side. But rather than take my opinion, or that of another Senator, we have a written decision by an arbitration panel that was charged with settling this very issue.

That arbitration panel was established under the NAFTA treaty. And it is that panel's ruling that decides what does and does not violate NAFTA when it comes to cross-border trucking. I would like to read to the Senate a quote from the findings of the arbitration panel. That quote is printed right here on this poster. The panel stated and I quote, "the United States may not be required to treat applications from Mexican trucking firms in exactly the same manner as applications from United States or Canadian firms...U.S. authorities are responsible for the safe operations of trucks within U.S. territory, whether ownership is United States, Canadian, or Mexican."

So the arbitration panel made clear that, under NAFTA, the U.S. is within its rights to impose whatever safety regimen it considers necessary to ensure safety on U.S. highways. While the DOT has stated that it is seeking to treat U.S., Mexican, and Canadian trucks in the same way, the fact is that we are not required to treat them in the same way. Where greater safety risks exist, we are entitled, under NAFTA, to impose stricter safety conditions. That is what the provisions adopted unanimously by the Appropriations Committee do. They establish strict safety conditions for those Mexican trucks that want to travel anywhere in the United States.

It's a very convenient argument for this Administration to claim that these safety provisions somehow violate NAFTA. They make that argument for one reason -- because they want to convince Senators that they must choose between safety and free trade. Well I'm not fooled Mr. President. The Appropriations Committee and its Transportation Subcommittee were not fooled.

I voted for NAFTA, but I also read the arbitration panel's decision that made clear that we are within our rights to impose whatever safety requirements are necessary to protect our highways. The safety requirements that DOT has proposed are grossly inadequate. Lest anyone think this sounds partisan, I think that the truck safety record under the Clinton Administration was not any better. We have a lot to do in terms of moving the safety agenda forward, not just in terms of Mexican trucks but all trucks.

Mr. President, let me take a few moments to discuss in detail, the truck safety provisions that were reported in the Committee bill.

Inspectors Must Be On Duty: The provision adopted unanimously by the Committee requires that Mexican trucks cross the border only at those points where inspectors are actually on duty. The DOT Inspector General found that Federal and State border inspectors were on duty twenty-four hours a day at only two border crossings. Mexican trucks crossing the border during off hours are not subject to inspection. The Committee provision would require that Mexican trucks cross the border only at those inspection stations where inspectors are actually on duty. How can anyone possibly argue that our safety is being protected if these trucks are rolling across the border where no safety inspector is on duty? Yet that is currently the case at certain times of the day at twenty-five of the twenty-seven border crossings. The IG has compiled data that shows conclusively that there is a direct correlation between inspection staffing levels at the border crossings and the quality of the trucks that cross at that border crossing. Put simply, trucks that need to worry about being inspected tend to cross the border at those crossings where an inspector is not on duty. This is a loophole that must be closed.

Mexican Truck Companies Must Have Thorough Compliance Reviews The DOT plans to issue conditional operating authority to Mexican truck companies based on a simple mail-in questionnaire. All that Mexican truck companies will need to do is check a box saying that they have complied with U.S. regulations and their trucks will start rolling across the border. In fact, under the DOT plan, Mexican trucking companies would be allowed to operate for at least a year and a half before they would be subjected to any comprehensive safety audit by the DOT. Under the Committee provision, no Mexican trucking firm will be allowed to operate beyond the commercial zone until inspectors have actually performed a compliance review on that trucking company -- this review will look at the conditions of the trucks and the record keeping. They will determine whether the company actually has the capacity to comply with U.S. safety regulations.

Once they have begun operating in the U.S., Mexican trucking firms will undergo a second compliance review within 18 months. That second review will allow the DOT to determine whether the Mexican trucking firm has, in fact, complied with U.S. safety standards. It will allow them to review accident and break-down rates, their drug and alcohol testing results, and whether they have been cited frequently for violations.

Compliance Reviews of Mexican Trucking Firms Must Be Performed On-Site Every time a U.S. Motor Carrier Safety Inspector performs a compliance review on a U.S. trucking firm, it is done at the trucking firm's facility. Every time a U.S. Motor Carrier Safety Inspector performs a compliance review on a Canadian trucking firm, it is done at the Canadian trucking firm's facility. Now when it comes to Mexico, the DOT wants to allow compliance reviews to be conducted at the border. This is a farce. A compliance review, by definition, requires the inspector to carefully review the trucking firm's vehicles, record books, log-books, wage and hour records, and much, much more. You can't perform a compliance review at a remote site. It is not even a poor substitute. At the same time as the DOT claims that it wants to provide for equal treatment between U.S. trucking firms, Mexican trucking firms, and Canadian trucking firms, they want to establish a huge loophole where Mexican trucking firms don't have to be subject to inspection. There is a long list of abuses that can result if inspectors never visit a trucking company's facility. For the life of me, I cannot imagine why the DOT wants to allow those potential abuses on the part of Mexican trucking firms while insisting that every compliance review here in the United States and in Canada is performed on site.

We Must Verify all Documents at the Border The provision reported by the Committee requires that the license, registration, operating authority and insurance of every Mexican truck be verified at the border. This is absolutely essential if we are to be sure that the vehicles crossing the border are being driven by experienced drivers with a safe driving record and that the vehicles are insured and registered. It is well understood that, while the condition of a truck is important when it comes to maintaining safety, the capabilities of the driver are far more important when it comes to minimizing the risk of a fatal accident. Our experience in dealing with illegal immigration and illegal drug trafficking across the U.S.-Mexican border has shown that there is a recurring problem with forged documents among people crossing the border. We cannot allow individuals with forged documents to drive 18-wheelers anywhere in the United States. It is simply common sense that we make the extra effort to verify the license, insurance, and registration of the trucks crossing the border.

We Must Require Scales and Weigh-In Motion Machines at the Border The provision approved unanimously by the Committee requires all border crossings to be equipped with both scales and weigh-in-motion (WIM) machines. At present, vehicles in Mexico are allowed to operate at weights far in excess of permissible weights than the United States. In fact, there are no weigh stations currently operating in Mexico — none. The reasons for requiring both weigh-in motion machines and scales at each border are simple -- to move trucks rapidly while keeping overweight trucks out of the U.S. It would be very time consuming to put every truck on scales as they cross the border. However, weigh-in-motion machines allow inspectors to pull out of the line only those few trucks that they suspect to be overweight. At present, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will not allow an enforcement action to be taken against an overweight truck based on the findings of a weigh-in motion machine. So scales are necessary for the DOT to actually enforce U.S. weight restrictions. There is no point in weighing the vehicles if you are not prepared to take enforcement action against those that are overweight. Recently, the DOT has praised extensively the border safety regime that is in place at the Otay Mesa border crossing in California. At Otay Mesa, they have both weigh-in-motion machines and scales to conduct enforcement actions on overweight trucks. That is the model that the Committee provision would extend to the other border crossings between U.S. and Mexico.

We Must Require Mexican Firms to Have U.S. Insurance The Provision adopted unanimously by the Committee requires Mexican trucking firms to obtain insurance, and their insurer must be licensed to operate within the United States. This is the requirement that currently pertains to Canadian trucking firms seeking to operate in the United States. We do not understand why, if the requirement is good enough for the Canadian trucking companies, the DOT thinks it's too onerous for the Mexican trucking companies. There could be significant hurdles and challenges to collecting insurance claims from Mexican insurers. American motorists who have been injured by Mexican trucks could face serious jurisdictional hurdles to getting compensated for their injuries. We will also be able to verify the solvency of these insurance companies writing these insurance policies if they are operating in the United States. We will not have that capability when it comes to Mexican insurance companies. At present, the Mexican trucks crossing the border legally into the commercial zone purchase insurance policies that last only one day. These insurance policies are granted by Mexican insurance companies routinely without any knowledge of the condition of the truck. Do we really want a situation where a Mexican trucking firm heading to Chicago and back has an insurance policy that is only five days long with the trucker getting a different policy from a different insurance company every time he crosses the border? We must make sure that the Mexican trucking companies operating in the U.S. have the kind of insurance that is verifiable, sustainable, solvent and cooperative when it comes to paying off claims made by U.S. motorists and U.S. companies who have been injured by Mexican trucks.

We Must Ensure Rules are in Place Before the Border is Opened The provision unanimously adopted by the Appropriations Committee requires that critically important safety rules are completed by the DOT before the border can be opened. These rules were not randomly selected. The rules that we require to be published before the border can be opened are targeted at the specific safety concerns surrounding Mexican trucks. The rules that would be required to be published before the border can be opened include:

  • Rules mandating that foreign trucking companies including Mexican trucking companies be aware of U.S. safety standards;
  • Rules establishing minimum training standards for U.S. truck inspectors;
  • Rules requiring the development of staffing standards to determine the appropriate number of inspectors at the Mexican border;
  • Rules prohibiting foreign motor carriers, including Mexican trucking companies, from leasing their vehicles to another trucking company if they have been subjected to a suspension, restriction, or limitation on their right to operate in the U.S.; and
  • Rules permanently disqualifying any foreign motor carrier that is found operating illegally in the United States.
All of these rules are specifically pertinent to the safety challenges presented by Mexican trucks. All of these rules were called for in the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act that was signed into law over a year and a half ago. But the DOT wants to put the cart before the horse. The DOT wants to allow Mexican trucks across the border first, and then develop the pertinent safety standards later. When the Congress passed the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act, we did so with the knowledge that we would be facing a day in the future when Mexican trucks may be allowed free access into the United States. That is why the strong safety requirements were put into that bill.

Now the DOT wants to let the Mexican trucks across the border without implementing these new requirements. The DOT is arguing that it may take a year or two to finalize these regulations and to put these rules into place. If it requires an extra twelve months so that safety is not undermined by the influx of Mexican trucks, then it will be worth the wait.

Inspector Positions Must Be Filled by Trained Inspectors The provision adopted unanimously by the Committee fully funds the DOT's request for eighty additional inspectors for the Mexican border. The Committee provision also includes a requirement to ensure the DOT does not fulfill the requirement by simply moving safety inspectors to the border from elsewhere in the country. We have Federal Motor Carrier Safety Inspectors in my state and every other state, and they are charged with maintaining truck safety in those states. I don't think that any of us want to see all our truck safety inspectors throughout the U.S. move down to the Mexican border just so the DOT can allow trucks to be moving across the border by this fall.

Our Borders Must have Adequate Inspection Capacity The DOT Inspector General found that in 47% of the border crossings, Federal and State Inspectors had space to inspect only one or two trucks at a time. At more than half of the border crossings, inspectors had only one or two spaces to park out-of-service trucks. That fact severely undermines their ability to order trucks off the road. It is one thing to say that you have inspectors on duty, and it is a very different thing to say that there is sufficient capacity at the border to do meaningful inspections and, if need be, order trucks off the road. The provision, reported unanimously by the Committee, requires the DOT Inspector general to certify that the inspection stations have sufficient capacity to conduct meaningful inspections and the ability and capacity to order trucks off the road if necessary.

We Must have Adequate Data Systems in Place The provision adopted unanimously by the Committee requires the Inspector General to certify that the database that is being compiled on Mexican trucking firms and Mexican drivers is sufficiently accurate and accessible to allow U.S. law enforcement authorities to conduct their work. These databases are key if we are going to be able to monitor the safety performance of Mexican trucking firms and Mexican truck drivers. The DOT Inspector General found significant problems with the accuracy and completeness of the law enforcement databases on Mexico-domiciled trucking companies. In fact, they found that there were nine hundred Mexican trucking companies that could not be accounted for between the database on insurance and licensing and a separate database that houses identification numbers. While it is true that the Mexican government is starting to compile its own databases, it is widely recognized that there is not nearly enough information in the database to enable U.S. law enforcement to gather any information on the safety record of Mexican trucking firms and Mexican drivers. The Committee provision requires the DOT Inspector General to certify that these databases are actually functioning in a way where U.S. law enforcement can do its job. It is not enough to have the computers operating. There needs to be sufficient information to allow U.S. law enforcement to keep unsafe Mexican trucking firms and unsafe Mexican drivers off our roads.

We Must be Able to Enforce License Revocation When our Colleague Jack Danforth was here in the Senate and serving as Chairman of the Commerce Committee, he made a great many contributions to Transportation Safety. One of his greatest contributions was the law requiring a uniform commercial drivers license here in the United States. That requirement came in the wake of numerous horror stories where U.S. truck drivers had their license revoked and then got new licenses in other states so they could continue driving. Jack Danforth put a stop to all of that. He put a system in place here in the United States where we monitor the issuance of commercial drivers licenses in all 50 states, to make sure that multiple licenses aren't being issued to the same driver. There is no such system in Mexico. In fact, there is hardly any computerized data on who is getting a commercial driver's license in Mexico. There is almost no data on the driving record history of Mexican drivers within the Mexican system. The provision unanimously adopted by the Committee requires the DOT Inspector General to certify that there are mechanisms in place within Mexico to ensure that Mexican drivers with insufficient driving records have their licenses revoked and cannot get a new license through surreptitious means. The DOT claims that it supports subjecting Mexican drivers and Canadian drivers to the exact same standards as U.S. drivers, yet there is absolutely no mechanism in place in Mexico to make that into a reality. No one in Mexico is monitoring the safety record of Mexican drivers to any degree of accuracy. As of today, there is no capability of U.S. law enforcement authorities to tap into a database that is sufficiently comprehensive to give a clear picture of an individual's driving record in Mexico. It is going to take several months for the Mexicans to compile such a database and, even then, its accuracy is going to be questioned. None of us want a catastrophic truck accident in our state and to find out that it was the driver's fourth or fifth accident. If we are serious about subjecting all truck drivers to the same safety standards, then there needs to be some mechanism in place to ensure that the driving performance of Mexican truckers is being monitored as it is here in the U.S.

The California Inspection Plan The final provision I would like to discuss is the pending amendment before the Senate. It is sponsored by Senator Shelby and myself. We laid the amendment down last Friday when the bill was first brought up in the Senate. We think it is an important measure that strengthens the truck safety provisions in the underlying bill. During the hearings last week in both the House and Senate authorizing Committees, much attention was paid to the inspection system that has been implemented by the State of California to handle the safety deficiencies posed by Mexican trucks. The California system requires every truck seeking to cross the border to be fully inspected at least every 90 days. This requirement is dramatically more stringent than currently exists at the border with Texas, Arizona, or New Mexico. As a result of this stronger enforcement effort, the percentage of Mexican trucks ordered off the road has dropped to a level that is better than that of other border crossings. The provisions in the bill already reported by the Committee require strict new measures to verify the licenses, registration, operating authority and insurance of all Mexican trucks crossing the border. This additional amendment will impose the "California Plan" at all border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico. It is my understanding that the Administration supports the imposition of this new inspection regime. I think it strengthens the bill in an important way that will better protect the safety of our constituents.

Finally, Mr. President, it has been alleged that the all of the safety measures that have been included in the Committee bill will cost more money than has been provided to date. If the DOT needs more money to ensure the safety of America's highways, then I believe that Secretary Mineta and OMB should come forward with a request for the additional funds. The Appropriations bill reported by the Committee already provides $15 million more for the border truck safety activities than was requested by DOT. If the DOT comes forward with a formal request for more resources, the Committee will work with the Department to find the necessary resources. It will be money well spent.

Mr. President, for several years, our country has been looking for a way to balance the open trade -- called for by NAFTA -- with the safety we expect on our highways. We understand that commerce must move, but we're concerned about the safety of Mexican trucks – especially since they're 50 percent more likely to violate our safety standards.

After a lot of hard work – after listening to the safety experts, the Department of Transportation, the GAO and the industry, we've come up with a plan that allows both goals -- free trade and safe roads – to progress side by side. This bill won't violate NAFTA. The arbitration panel already told us that we can take steps to ensure our safety. Let me repeat that. The official panel that determines compliance with NAFTA has already told us we can take the safety measures we need. This bill does not violate NAFTA.

This bill won't stop trade across our border. But it will stop unsafe drivers and unsafe trucks from threatening the American public. Under our bill, when you're driving on the highway behind a Mexican truck, you can feel safe. You'll know the truck was inspected and the company has a good track record. You'll know an American inspector visited their facility and examined their records just like we do with Canadian trucking firms. You'll know the driver is licensed and insured and the truck was weighed and is safe for our roads and bridges. You'll know that we're keeping track of which drivers are following our laws – and which ones are not. You'll know that if a driver is breaking our laws, we'll revoke his license. You'll know that the truck didn't just cross our border unchecked but crossed where there were inspectors on duty. That's a real safety program. Mr. President, this is a solid compromise. It will allow robust trade – while ensuring the safety of our highways. I appreciate that some members want to take a different approach. I'm here, and I'm willing to listen to constructive ideas. But as a country, we should not move toward weaker safety standards. I will not help the Senate weaken the standards that ensure our safety. We can have free trade and safe highways -- and this bill shows us how. It sets up a real safety program that will keep Americans safe and it complies with NAFTA. I urge my colleagues to support this pro-safety, pro-trade bill.