Federal Update
A united front
House vote sends clear message that opposition to pilot program is growing

Jami Jones
senior editor

A formidable wall of opposition to the cross-border program continues to build.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Safe American Roads Act of 2007 by a resounding 411-3 on May 15. That lopsided vote adds the House to a growing roster of opponents the Department of Transportation faces in opening the border to Mexican motor carriers.

The initial version of HR1773 introduced by Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-KS, blended in several provisions of another bill challenging the cross-border program introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-CA.

“The passage of this bill goes a long way toward injecting some sanity into a program that still has too many questions that have not been resolved,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. “The DOT has provided nothing but rhetoric when asked exactly how it will effectively implement this program.”

The lack of detail prompted staunch support of Boyda’s bill from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“This vote is a result of lawmakers listening to our members who have written or called expressing concern about safety and security,” Spencer said.

The bill passed after several Democrats and Republicans spoke in strong support of the bill – and in sharp criticism of the program.

“It is bad enough that NAFTA has caused the United States to hemorrhage more than 1 million jobs; but now the administration with the NAFTA trucks proposal would add insult to injury,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, said. “Not only would it put in jeopardy more American jobs, those of American truck drivers, but it would also jeopardize the safety of the traveling public on America’s highways.”

Concern about the program ran deep on both sides of the aisle.

Rep. Candice Miller, R-MI, shed light on the fact that depending on Mexican databases for determining participation in a cross-border program is dangerous.

“Fraud in (the Mexico licensing) system runs rampant,” Miller said. “One in five Mexican driving records contains an error. A 20 percent error rate in the U.S. would be a crisis.”

Those concerns, and many others, will be addressed by several strict benchmarks in HR1773, if it is signed into law.

For example, the bill would require an independent review panel to oversee the program. If the panel determined the program was having an adverse effect on safety, it could recommend modifications or termination of the program. The DOT would have only five days to take action or end the program.

The bill would set the program to run for three years and include no more than 1,000 trucks.

The bill would also take the guesswork out of whether the DOT has complied with all of Section 350 of the 2002 transportation appropriations legislation. Instead of just a handful of provisions being certified, the Office of Inspector General would have to sign off on all 22.

With the passage of the Safe American Roads Act of 2007, attention now turns to the Senate.

“We’ve been talking with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate about legislation such as this,” said Rod Nofziger, OOIDA director of government affairs. “The strong vote in the House will make it much easier to move a similar bill through the Senate expeditiously.”