SPECIAL REPORT: DOT to improve CDL process, Mexican truck inspections

| 2/4/2003

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General's list of top management challenges for 2003 includes improving inspections for Mexican trucks that may soon operate on U.S. highways and cracking down on fraudulent CDL practices.

DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead cited a May 2000 DOT report that said only four of 13 states DOT visited had laws requiring applicants to demonstrate they are citizens or legally in the United States.

Since 1998, DOT conducted more than 70 criminal investigations in 12 states involving CDLs. To date, these cases have resulted in 81 indictments, 63 convictions, and more than $480,000 in fines, restitution and other monetary recoveries. In addition, hundreds of trucker licenses were suspended or revoked. Or, the truckers were re-tested in order to ensure that they were qualified to drive commercial vehicles.

"As a consequence of the fraudulent testing and licensing of commercial drivers, highway safety has been compromised and states have incurred additional expense to re-test thousands of commercial drivers," Mead said. "DOT needs to counter fraudulent licensing by strengthening and clarifying federal standards for issuing CDLs and by requiring the states to make use of covert procedures in the monitoring of driver examiners."

Mexican truck safety
Anticipating Mexican truck entry, DOT is reevaluating personnel requirements for the U.S.-Mexico border, including inspection staff and facility requirements, based on the amount of long-haul traffic that materializes.

As of Jan. 2, 2003, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has received 162 applications from Mexican carriers requesting long-haul authority. However, no one knows how many Mexican motor carriers will ultimately apply for and be granted authority to operate long-haul vehicles.

"FMCSA needs to implement motor carrier and driver monitoring systems and ensure that all federal and state inspectors have access to current, accurate, and timely information on drivers, vehicles and motor carriers," Mead said. "Our work found as the number of inspections of Mexican commercial vehicles seeking to enter the United States increased, the percentage of vehicles that had to be placed out of service for safety and other violations declined (from 44 percent in FY 1997 to 34 percent in FY 2001)."

In August 2002, FMCSA issued a rule requiring states to place Mexican commercial vehicles out of service if they do not have U.S. operating authority.

"FMCSA needs to ensure that all states implement the new rule and have access to timely information to determine if Mexican commercial vehicles are operating improperly, such as whether they have been authorized to operate beyond the commercial zones," Mead said.

Overall challenges
DOT listed its top management challenges for 2003. They are: 
1. Accomplishing DOT's core missions of safety and mobility during and after an effective transition of the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard. 
2. Reducing fatalities and injuries on our highways, emphasizing seat-belt-law enforcement. 
3. Reducing the risk of aviation accidents due to operational errors and runway incursions. 
4. Reversing FAA's spiraling operating costs, improving aviation system capacity, and reauthorizing AIR-21. 
5. Clamping down on fraud, obtaining better value in highway and bridge investments, and re-authorizing TEA-21.
6. Determining the future of intercity passenger rail. 
7. Ensuring highway safety as the southern border is opened to Mexican motor carriers under NAFTA. 
8. Strengthening computer security and investment controls for DOT's multibillion-dollar information technology investment. 
9. Continuing to improve transportation security.
10. Meeting the Coast Guard's safety and security missions.

By Dick Larsen, senior editor