Federal Update
Audits of Mexican carriers questioned
OOIDA points to questionable data on carriers passing FMCSA’s audits

By Jami Jones
senior editor


It’s been billed as the first line of defense against unsafe Mexican motor carriers – the pre-authorization safety audit.

The Department of Transportation hails its pre-authorization safety audits as the first line of defense in preventing unsafe Mexico-based trucking companies from operating in the U.S. as part of the cross-border program.

The department has gone so far as to claim the companies passing these audits are safer than U.S.-based motor carriers.

That’s clearly not the case, according to research by Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association staff.

This was revealed in comments filed Nov. 1 by the Association in response to a notice and request for public comment on the pre-authorization safety audits – called PASAs for short.

In the comments, OOIDA officials pointed out that FMCSA has published so little data on the audit activities that the public has not had a decent chance to review and comment on the findings.

“It’s like they are still making things up as they go along. They just go ahead and say the motor carrier passes; therefore, that is supposed to be accepted as true,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

With what is known about the PASA process and the information available to inspectors conducting the inspections, the Association contends that the audits guarantee nothing about the safety of the Mexican motor carriers that are given a passing grade.

To bolster its position, the Association conducted its own research on the companies that have passed their PASA and found companies with less-than-stellar safety histories.

“The inspection records that are public do not support a finding that the Mexico-domiciled motor carriers listed in the notice are prepared to comply with the U.S. motor carrier safety rules,” Association officials wrote in the comments.

“OOIDA ... asks FMCSA to explain how certain carriers pass their PASA in light of the negative data that is available for public inspection.”

In its comments, the Association pointed to inspection records of Mexican motor carriers on SafeStat.

“SafeStat data reveals many instances of critical violations by drivers of Mexico-domiciled motor carriers ... inspection records also reveal that these carriers have received many out-of-service orders. These include failing to repair or maintain parts and accessories, inoperable required lamps, brake hose/tubing chafing and/or kinking, and brakes out of adjustment,” Association officials wrote in the comments.

One example cited by the Association was SafeStat records on an inspection of a Trinity Industries truck. The truck was inspected on June 4, 2007, and it was cited for:

  • 11 instances of no/defective lighting devices/projected;
  • two instances of no/improper mounting of clearance lights;
  • one instance of brake hose/tubing chafing and/or kinking, tire cut exposing ply and/or belt material;
  • two instances of no inspection/repair and maintenance of parts and accessories.

The kicker, the Association pointed out, is that this truck was not put out of service, despite all of these violations.

FMCSA has a record of 604 inspections of Trinity’s trucks and drivers in the 12 months preceding Sept. 21, 2007. In those inspections, Trinity was cited for 1,120 violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Of those, 74 inspections resulted in an out-of-service order being issued.

“From OOIDA’s review, it appears that many serious violations were found on Trinity’s trucks, trailers and drivers that would merit an (out-of-service) order, but that no order was issued. Having operated 10 trucks in the United States, each Trinity truck has been cited for an average of 112 violations in the past year,” Association officials point out in their comments.

According to the Association’s comments, because public information on the audits is so limited, there is no way to know if inspectors conducting the PASA reviewed Trinity’s violations.

Research by OOIDA staff on another company that has passed its PASA, Avomex, turned up a pattern of vehicle and driver safety violations that demonstrates a lack of basic safety management controls.

For example, an Avomex truck was issued a citation for brake hose/tubing chafing/kinking within three weeks of being cited for the same violation. Also, a violation for operating without authority on April 3, 2007, is an out-of-service violation that “could not have possibly been corrected within the nine days that elapsed between that inspection and the vehicle’s next inspection,” according to OOIDA’s comments.

Other vehicle violations noted in the comments point to a failure by the company’s management to promptly repair parts and accessories.

The comments also detail an extensive list of driver violations including logbook violations, 14-hour rule violations, and non-English speaking driver violations.

“On what basis did FMCSA determine that certain Avomex drivers were qualified to operate in the United States,” OOIDA officials asked in the comments.

“During 172 driver and vehicle inspections conducted between Sept. 21, 2006, and Sept. 21, 2007, Avomex was cited for 206 violations. Running five trucks in the U.S., Avomex received slightly more than an average of 40 violations per truck.

“And that gets an approved PASA?” asked Spencer. “This is just one of several examples we found that no authority should be granted to any Mexican motor carriers.”

The Association insists that FMCSA be more forthcoming with information that would substantiate the decision to pass motor carriers such as Trinity and Avomex in their audits.

Until then, OOIDA officials contend that “the safety records of many carriers who have passed a PASA are lamentable and raise serious questions as to the standards being used by FMCSA in this process.” LL