Commercial Trucking

Safety and Infrastructure Issues Under the North American Free Trade Agreement Gao ID: RCED-96-61 February 29, 1996

According to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S.-Mexican border was to be opened in December 1995 for increased commercial truck traffic within the border states in each country-- four in the United States (Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas). Before then, the 11,000 trucks crossing daily from Mexico into the United States were limited to commercial zones along the border. GAO found that Mexico and the United States had made progress in developing compatible trucking regulations. Compatibility is essential because existing differences in the two nations' trucking regulations, operating practices, and enforcement efforts could affect highway safety and harm the infrastructure. Compatibility in some trucking regulations, such as those on vehicle size and weight, may never be reached; therefore, the host country's regulations must be complied with, and enforcement is the key for ensuring compliance. The four U.S. border states' readiness for enforcement varies widely. Texas faces the greatest enforcement burden but has relatively limited resources-- enforcement personnel and facilities--to cope with increasing truck traffic from Mexico. In addition to the northbound traffic entering the four U.S. border states, southbound and east-west traffic will add to their enforcement burden.

GAO found that: (1) the United States and Mexico have made some progress in developing compatible trucking standards, but standardization of some regulations, such as vehicle size and weight, may never occur; (2) there are major differences between U.S. and Mexican trucking regulations and operating and enforcement practices that could adversely impact highway safety and infrastructure; (3) negotiators have standardized procedures on drivers' age, inspection criteria, traffic control devices and road signs, and certain hazardous materials, but further standardization of trucking regulations is not scheduled for completion until 1997; (4) where compatibility cannot be reached, foreign trucks must comply with the host country's regulations, but enforcement efforts will be the key to compliance; (5) Mexico is establishing a truck safety enforcement program, but it lacks personnel and other resources to implement it; (6) most Mexican trucks entering the United States do not meet U.S. safety standards; (7) the four U.S. border states' enforcement readiness varies significantly; (8) the Customs Service is permitting Texas to set up truck inspection capabilities within its facilities because it faces the greatest enforcement burden and has relatively limited resources; and (9) in addition to northbound traffic, southbound and east-west traffic will complicate the states' enforcement burden.

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