Data on cross-border program insufficient, FMCSA committee says; Mex carriers continue operation

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mexicoUntitled-1A Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advisory committee approved Oct. 28 a report critical of several elements of the U.S.-Mexico cross-border pilot program, which ended earlier this month.

The report, a product of the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee’s cross-border subcommittee, worried that the three-year long-haul demonstration project did not produce data sufficient to analyze the safety of Mexican carriers’ long-haul trucking operations in the U.S.

Only 13 Mexican carriers were participating in the program by its end, though more were needed, noted California Highway Patrol rep and subcommittee chair Janice Mulanix.

“Few of those were in the pilot program for more than 1 year,” the report notes. “Most of the vehicles and motor carriers in the pilot program did not engage in long-haul operations beyond the border commercial zones.”

Most of the inspections were completed in the commercial zone, “not outside of it,” Mulanix said, referencing fewer than 10 inspections conducted elsewhere. “Only 5 percent of the trips were outside of the border zone.” Moreover, more than 82 percent of all the inspections were of just two of the participating motor carriers’ drivers and trucks, and “a very small number were Level 1 and 2 inspections.”

Most were driver credentials inspections, which FMCSA Associate Administrator for Enforcement Bill Quade explained by pointing out that all Mexican carriers in the pilot program were required to keep current CVSA decals showing evidence of a Level 1 inspection within the last three months on their participating trucks. It’s “common protocol…not to do an inspection on a truck with a decal,” he said.

Mexican carriers operating in the U.S., in the small sample of pilot carriers, had safety records that indicated better performance than the average of U.S. carriers, despite a very-high inspection rate of approximately 18 annual inspections per truck. By comparison, U.S. trucks on average receive just more than 1 inspection annually.

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“The original criteria laid out by Congress was for there to be a representative sample of motor carriers that more or less could be extrapolated to the country,” noted Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

Self-selection of the best trucks and drivers by participating Mexican carriers was the rule in the program, as admitted by a Mexican carrier’s representative who presented to the subcommittee. Some committee members questioned whether that further invalidated the results. But Quade, citing the same Mexican carrier official, said that such practices were likely to continue well beyond the end of the program for many of the carriers involved.

Mexican pilot program carriers hit the road
Pilot program carriers now have been granted standard operating authority to engage in long-haul operations outside the border zone, following the program’s end. “We took action on [Oct. 13] to give the carriers still participating in the program standard authority,” said Quade. “We’re not making any determinations about the future of long-haul Mexican trucks at this time.

“We’ll wait for the report from this committee,” he told the MCSAC, “and the report from our Inspector General.”

There was but one crash of a pilot-program truck reported – Quade described the event as a turn-in to a truck stop that resulted in a collision with a reckless four-wheeler. Spencer, however, pointed to federal data on a participating carrier that showed “seven crashes over the last two years.”

The higher number was reflective of the entire company’s operation, Quade noted, adding that “when we converted [pilot carriers] to standard authority … now all of their trucks and drivers” are available to engage in long-haul operations.

Overdrive analysis of participating carriers’ trucks in the pilot program and total trucks reported on MCS-150 forms revealed 279 more Mexican power units from four carriers, beyond the pilot-participating trucks, now able to run long-haul across the border. Only 55 trucks and 54 drivers participated in the pilot program.

The electronic logbooks participating carriers were equipped with – courtesy of the U.S taxpayer, noted OOIDA’s Spencer – have been “turned off,” Quade said. “I suspect most of them are going to paper logs…. We will continue to do inspections of logbooks at the border” and elsewhere. “For the four [pilot program carriers] with provisional authority — they all have to have [an annual] compliance review.”

Mulanix noted another issue relative to the electronic logbooks while the pilot program was in place. The subcommittee was never able to gain visibility into the logs when the drivers were in Mexico, “only when they were in the United States.”

Violations, however, were found during the course of the program, as previously reported.

The Mexican licensing system, too, and its differences from the state-run U.S. CDL program, were noted. Attempts by authorities and the cross-border subcommittee to obtaining state license records in Mexico were in many instances unsuccessful.

Quade said the state licensing system there seems to be mostly “about revenue,” not safety. “There’s not even a requirement that a driver hold a state license. We don’t think it’s even related to safety.” What’s important, he said, is the federal license that any Mexican truck driver needs to run on federal roads.