Union Tribune

October 20, 2002

Waivers could aid Mexican trucking
The White House wants to open up roads for long haul


WASHINGTON In an effort to get Mexican trucks rolling on U.S. highways, the Bush administration wants to bypass rules requiring that foreign trucks comply with U.S. manufacturing standards.

To help accomplish that, the Department of Transportation has proposed a two-year "grace period" to long-standing rules because, officials said, many Mexican companies might need more time to certify that their fleets comply with U.S. guidelines for commercial vehicles.

The rule change is needed to avoid further delays in the administration's plan to lift a U.S. ban on Mexican long-haul trucks from traveling beyond a 20-mile border zone.

As officials move ahead, the administration faces criticism from public safety groups.

The criticism focuses on the effort to temporarily exempt Mexican businesses from having to certify that their trucks and buses were built in compliance with U.S. standards.

At least two-thirds of the 400,000 trucks and buses that operate on roads in Mexico might not qualify, federal officials estimate.

Transportation officials contend the "grace period" will not undermine safety on U.S. highways, noting that most Mexican trucks are made by U.S. companies and that a tough inspection program is being developed.

However, some highway safety, insurance and trucking groups say the plan clashes with the 1986 Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which states commercial vehicles including foreign ones must be certified to comply with U.S. manufacturing standards at the time they were built.

That would include any commercial vehicle from Canada or Mexico that crosses the border, regardless of where they were manufactured, transportation officials say.

The manufacturing certifications are needed to ensure that Mexican vehicles are equipped with such safeguards as automatic brake adjusters and trailer guards. Mexico requires no specific standards for equipment on commercial vehicles.

The administration's proposal would allow foreign vehicles to use "equipment that not only will not, but sometimes could not, be brought into compliance" with U.S. standards, said Henry M. Jasny, lawyer for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

"The removal of barriers to trade was not intended to require the evasion or suspension of established motor vehicle regulations and safety standards," he said.

Federal authorities acknowledge that they alerted Mexican authorities about the certification regulations in 1995.

David Longo of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said officials are taking steps to ensure that safety on U.S. highways is maintained, regardless of the two-year waiver proposal.

Among other things, the United States would require inspections of each Mexican vehicle at least every 90 days, a cycle that has been carried out for years at California's state-

run facilities, Longo said.

U.S. officials also are negotiating with Mexican authorities to allow inspectors to examine the records of Mexican trucking companies.

About 75 Mexican trucking companies submitted applications to travel beyond the border areas, officials said.

Mexican companies that previously have operated trucks within the border areas will be eligible for the two-year waivers, according to the Department of Transportation. These companies are most likely to own commercial vehicles slated to be driven elsewhere in the United States, experts said.

"We're not going to see a horde of trucks going across the border when this is approved," one administration official said.

President Bush has pushed for Mexican access to all of this country's highways since shortly after taking office, saying it was necessary to comply with the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The former Texas governor overturned a Clinton administration order in 1995 that continued a ban on Mexican long-

haul cargo trucks. The ban has been in effect since the 1980s.

Earlier this year, the White House hoped to get the Mexican trucks moving across this country during the summer, but the plan was sidetracked in the face of congressional resistance generated by concern about the safety of Mexican trucks.