SPECIAL REPORT: Huge House majority OKs Olver amendment

| 9/22/2004

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment September 22 that closed the loophole that would have allowed foreign trucks as much as another two years to comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards safe operation regulations.

The amendment to the transportation funding bill was introduced by Rep. John Olver, D-MA. It passed by an impressive 339-70 majority.

"By prohibiting the U.S. Department of Transportation from granting a two-year exemption to foreign trucks and buses that were not built to U.S. safety standards, the amendment ensures safety and a level playing field for all trucks and buses, foreign and domestic," a fact sheet distributed by Olver said.

The measure now goes to a House/Senate conference committee.

"This is a pretty strong indication of how seriously members of the House of Representatives are about the safety of foreign trucks," said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Olver said his amendment had three main components:

  • Equal enforcement of existing U.S. safety laws for all trucks and buses;
  • Prevention of unsafe trucks and buses from driving on U.S. highways; and
  • An end to a special exemption for Mexican trucks and buses that penalizes U.S.- based trucking operations.

While opponents characterized the amendment as protectionism, a sample of comments from supporters illustrates that safety was foremost in their thinking.

"How can we exempt some buses and trucks? I want all trucks and buses inspected," Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-MI, said.

Another representative was even more blunt.

"I don't want unsafe Mexican trucks rolling down our roads, killing someone . this is a safety issue, not a trade issue," James Oberstar, D-MN, said.

Some representatives said what's good for us is good for them.

"If we insist on the safety of our trucks, we should do it for others," Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-TX, said.

Peter DeFazio, D-OR, said opponents were unrealistic in insisting exempted trucks operating in the United States would be inspected at the border.

"These trucks are all going to be inspected? By whom?" he asked.

He said Mexicans wouldn't inspect the trucks and the United States is not allowed to cross into Mexico to conduct inspections. He said the issue was "plain and simple," - if the Olver amendment didn't pass, highways would be endangered and more people would die in highway crashes.

Bill Pascrell, D-NJ, said it's a "sad day when we need an amendment like the Olver amendment because we can't depend on the DOT" to ensure the safety of foreign trucks and buses. He said the measure should pass and not be "gutted in the name of trade."

- By Dick Larsen, senior editor