New cross-border participant's safety stats lackluster

| 3/12/2008

Despite assurances by Department of Transportation officials that Mexican companies in the cross-border program are squeaky clean, one of the newest participant’s safety records tells a different tale.

Avomex International received its authority to operate beyond the border zone Feb. 29. That is in spite of a past riddled with safety violations.

The motor carrier’s safety records were highlighted by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association in the Association’s lawsuit seeking to stop the cross-border program.

In one of the court filings, OOIDA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs Rick Craig pointed out that in the 12-month period ending Sept. 21, 2007, Avomex’s five trucks at that time had amassed 206 total violations in 172 inspections. That averages out to just slightly more than 41 violations per truck.

That research was completed after Avomex was announced as having passed the Pre-Authorization Safety Audit.

However in the four months following Sept. 21, 2007, Avomex’s safety record hasn’t improved, yet the company was still granted authority to operate beyond the border zone in the U.S.

From Sept. 22, 2007 through Jan. 22, 2008, Avomex received 71 more violations in 41 inspections – well on pace to top the 206 violations in the preceding 12-month period.

In both the testimony submitted to the court and in the subsequent research, Avomex was put out of service only a limited number of times – despite violations that clearly should have resulted in out-of-service orders, according to Craig.

In the 16-month period, the company’s trucks have been put out of service a total of only 21 times. Yet numerous additional violations of regs regarding things such as “non-English speaking driver,” cargo securement and suspension should have resulted in out-of-service orders.

For example, in the four months since the end of September 2007, Avomex was cited five times for having non-English speaking drivers, yet the drivers were never put out-of-service.

“It seems clear that a common scenario in the border zone is for drivers, trucks and trailers to be let go instead of being placed out-of-service because they are so close to the warehouse or are heading back into Mexico,” Craig said.

“That still doesn’t excuse the fact that if the equipment or the driver are in violation and should be out-of-service, they have no business on the road. They are an imminent safety hazard. That’s the way it is for U.S. drivers, and it’s supposed to be that way for Mexican motor carriers.”

Avomex isn’t the first company to have its safety record called into question by OOIDA. Trinity Industries was also held up as an example of a poor safety record in the Association’s court filings.

Trinity had racked up 1,123 violations in 604 inspections in the 12-month period leading up to Sept. 21, 2007. That averaged out to112.3 violations per truck.

Trinity was granted authority to operate beyond the border zone by the Department of Transportation. However, the company left the program Feb. 1 and returned to operating only in the border zone.

In a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on the cross-border program, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, took exception to Trinity’s involvement in the cross-border program and wasn’t much happier that the company is still operating on U.S. soil at all.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters testified that Trinity’s safety record was an “anomaly” in the cross-border program.

“The fact that Avomex has somehow managed to get authority to operate beyond the border zone proves Trinity was not a fluke,” Craig said.

In the hearing, Peters also said that a number of Trinity’s violations were because drivers were pulling trailers new to them.

“That’s no excuse. The regulations clearly state that it’s the carrier’s and truck driver’s responsibility to make sure the equipment they are operating is in compliance,” Craig said. “If it’s not, they are just gambling on whether they will be put out-of-service.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor