Safety staff dispel misinformation about Mexican truckers
Mexican truckers traveling in the U.S. are subject to the same safety regulations that apply to U.S. truck- ers. That’s the message safety special- ists at the Motor Carrier Transporta- tion Division (MCTD) are relaying to callers concerned about President George W. Bush’s announcement in February that Mexican truckers will be permitted to carry international cargo throughout the U.S. under open-border trucking provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
According to David McKane, MCTD Safety Program Manager, staff has had to dispel misinformation that is causing unnecessary concern. “We found one news article on the Internet warning that NAFTA rules supercede state and federal laws,” McKane said. “It suggested that federal safety regulations will not apply to long- haul Mexican truckers so we could have untrained, unqualified, and overworked drivers operating unsafe and overweight trucks and there would be no way to get them off the road. It’s not true. Once Mexican operators cross the border into the U.S., they’ll play by our rules. It’s no different than what we expect of Canadian trucks and truck drivers.”
NAFTA, an economic agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., took effect in January 1994. Although it represented a first step in creating a free-trade zone in the Western Hemisphere, the Clinton administration stopped implementa- tion of the open-border trucking provisions of the agreement, citing concerns about the safety of Mexican trucks.
Nearly 200 Mexican trucking companies reportedly have applica- tions pending with the U.S. Depart- ment of Transportation for authority to carry freight into the United States.
Motor Carrier News • March 2001
Legal study describes permissible uses of the monies
ODOT adjusts uses of Highway Fund
A strict legal interpretation of the Oregon Constitution has caused the Oregon Department of Transportation to take a new look at how it spends the taxes and fees that go in the state’s Highway Fund.
In a Letter of Guidance released in January, the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) detailed the result of several months of study as to whether Highway Fund monies are being used as prescribed by the Oregon Constitu- tion. Its conclusion is that certain programs and activities, including several at the Motor Carrier Transportation Division (MCTD), must either stop, change, or find another source of funds. The Letter of Guidance has led to the introduction of legislation proposing ways to change programs or ad- dress funding issues.
Oregon will collect more than $600 million in vehicle fees and road-use- related taxes this year, about one-third of which comes from truck weight- mile taxes. Attorneys at DOJ did not analyze programs that use those funds for construction, reconstruction, improvement, repair, or maintenance of highways, or certain weighmaster activities, because they are specifically mentioned in the constitutional provisions of the State Highway Fund (Article IX, Section 3a).
The attorneys reviewed more than 80 other programs at ODOT. At the heart of the attorneys’ review was the question of whether a regulatory program or activity “primarily and directly facilitates motorized vehicle travel,” having a direct effect on the operation and use of vehicles in Oregon.
At MCTD, for example, the administration of the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) program was put to the test. This program is essentially a service to Oregon carriers who operate interstate. MCTD issues IFTA li- censes and then collects and distributes fuel taxes the carriers owe other states. It turns out this does not meet the test of being an appropriate use of Oregon highway funds. As a result, legislators are being asked to consider a bill that allows MCTD to continue the service by covering all program costs through an adjustment of the annual fee, currently $150, that carriers pay to participate in IFTA.
Other MCTD activities that the DOJ found did not “primarily and directly facilitate motorized vehicle travel” include administration of the Truck Safety Hotline and regulation of shippers who send hazardous materials by truck. In addition, the civil complaint process that MCTD uses against violators of regulation needs to change. Since the complaints filed against first-time offenders don’t result in a suspension of operating authority, they don’t have a direct effect on vehicle travel and therefore don’t qualify for highway funds. MCTD is working to resolve each of the issues, either through legislation or program changes.
Questions about Highway Fund usage came to the forefront following the passage of House Bill 3292 in the 1999 Legislative Session. That bill required ODOT’s Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division (DMV) to work with medical review officers collecting reports about an Oregon commercial vehicle driver’s positive drug test result so that information could be entered on the driver’s employment driving record. At the time, DMV believed it could not implement the bill because the information it would place on driving records would only be of value to employers who are considering whether to hire a truck driver. DMV thought that function was outside the scope of its appropriate duties under the Oregon Constitution. In June 2000, legislators agreed to fund the work by using approximately $100,000 in General Fund monies as the state match for about $500,000 in federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program grant funds. (continued on page 4) 3