Commercial Trucking:

Safety Concerns About Mexican Trucks Remain Even as Inspection Activity Increases

RCED-97-68: Published: Apr 9, 1997. Publicly Released: Apr 9, 1997.

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GAO reviewed the results of federal and state inspections of Mexican trucks entering the United States in 1996, focusing on: (1) actions by the federal government and border states to increase truck safety enforcement at the border; and (2) the federal enforcement strategy to ensure that trucks from Mexico comply with safety standards when entering the United States.

GAO noted that: (1) from January through December 1996, federal and state officials conducted more than 25,000 inspections of trucks from Mexico; (2) on average each month, about 45 percent of the vehicles were placed out of service for serious safety violations, such as for having substandard tires or for being loaded unsafely; (3) this rate compares unfavorably to the 28 percent out-of-service rate for U.S. trucks inspected across the United States in fiscal year 1995; (4) however, because inspectors target for inspection those vehicles and drivers that appear to have safety deficiencies, their selections are not random; (5) as a result, the out-of-service rates may not necessarily reflect the general condition of all vehicles; (6) although border inspection officials believe that trucks from Mexico are safer than they were in late 1995, the monthly out-of-service rates for trucks from Mexico in 1996 ranged from 39 percent to 50 percent, with no consistent trend; (7) the border states of Arizona, California, and Texas have increased their capability to inspect trucks at major border locations; (8) collectively, the three states had 93 state truck inspectors assigned to border crossing locations as of January 1997; (9) in addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) approved 13 new temporary positions (2-year appointments) to place federal safety inspectors at major border crossing locations; (10) California, with about 24 percent of the truck traffic from Mexico, opened two large permanent inspection facilities; (11) it has the most rigorous inspection program, with the goal of inspecting, at least once every 90 days, every truck entering the state from Mexico; (12) while both Texas and Arizona, collectively with more than three-quarters of the truck traffic from Mexico, have more than doubled the number of inspectors at border crossing locations, their efforts are less comprehensive; (13) under a broad strategy to help create a "compliance mind-set" for Mexican trucks crossing into U.S. commercial zones, DOT has undertaken a number of activities to promote truck safety; (14) in February 1997, DOT announced that its program that provides grants for statewide safety enforcement activities will incorporate performance-based goals to increase truck and driver safety; and (15) also, in March 1997, DOT submitted a legislative proposal to the Congress as part of the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act that would incorporate this initiative.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT concurred with the recommendation and required that all states participating in its Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program develop and implement performance-based programs for FY 1999. This initiative was subsequently enacted into law in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21). DOT told GAO that all states are preparing performance-based programs and that 3 of the 4 border states included such goals in their plans. California did not because it did not consider this a critical problem since, its out-of-service rates for Mexican vehicles are now comparable to U.S. nationwide inspection rates.

    Recommendation: To measure progress by Mexican commercial truck carriers in meeting U.S. safety regulations, the Secretary of Transportation should encourage the border states to develop and implement measurable results-oriented goals for the inspection of commercial trucks entering the United States from Mexico and assist them in doing so.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency agrees that fulfilling the recommendation is critical to the success of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The agency points out that it has not had a recent occasion where a border project necessitated coordination with GSA. However, it believes that future involvement with GSA and border facilities is directly related to the successful implementation of Section 1119 of TEA 21, the Coordinated Border Infrastructure Program. The agency is placing a high priority on the inclusion of inspection facilities in the implementation of this program and is conducting out-reach efforts with the states to convey that priority. These out-reach efforts also provide a forum to the states for direct interaction with DOT to make their infrastructure needs known for future planning purposes.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should work actively with the General Services Administration (GSA), as part of GSA's existing planning process, to ensure that truck safety inspection facilities are included, where practicable, when border installations are planned, constructed, or refurbished.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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