WASHINGTON — A federal watchdog has found that too many Mexican-based trucking companies moving long-haul freight into and out of the U.S. are receiving lax oversight from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The finding, in a report released Friday by the U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general’s (IG) office, is based on FMCSA’s compliance review procedures for Mexican carriers seeking authority to operate beyond the U.S.-Mexico cross-border commercial zones.

“FMCSA generally followed federal regulations and its standard operating procedures and processes when provisionally authorizing and monitoring cross-border carriers’ long-haul operations in the United States,” the report stated.

“The Agency also has an adequate tracking system to determine when carriers are due for a review to ensure they are complying with these regulations.

“However, FMCSA did not always conduct timely compliance reviews of carriers operating under provisional authority, which hinders FMCSA’s ability to fully assess and mitigate carrier safety risks, resulting in increased risk that unsafe carriers may be operating on the Nation’s roadways.”

The report noted that FMCSA is required to conduct a compliance review on Mexico-based carriers within 18 months after the agency issues a carrier a provisional operating authority. The IG found that among all 83 Mexican carriers that had received long-haul operating authority as of Jan. 1, 53 (64%) did not receive a compliance review within 18 months of receiving their provisional operating authority.

And of those, 38 had not received a compliance review at all — after having had provisional authority to operate for an average of over 40 months, with the longest for more than seven years.

“Further, FMCSA had not conducted a compliance review of a cross-border carrier since January 2020,” the IG’s report stated. “The Agency has an adequate tracking system to determine when carriers are due for a compliance review. Nevertheless, according to an FMCSA official, the Agency did not meet the timeliness requirement for various reasons, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and carriers not having adequate roadside inspection data.”

Alleviating some of the concern is the fact that, according to FMCSA, Mexican carriers’ safety performance “is as good as or better than U.S. carriers,” the report pointed out.

The IG confirmed that, based on FMCSA safety data, Mexico-based long-haul carriers had a vehicle out-of-service rate under 15% in fiscal year 2022 compared with over 22% for U.S. carriers. Mexican carriers had a driver out-of-service rate of under 1% in FY22 compared with over 7% for U.S. carriers.

Still, the IG made three recommendations to FMCSA’s administrator to improve the agency’s oversight of Mexican-based long-haul trucking companies operating in the U.S.:

Revise FMCSA’s policy to define and allow for justifications for delaying compliance reviews beyond 18 months. If delayed, determine how long a carrier should be permitted to continue to operate under provisional authority without a compliance review and require documentation of a decision to delay a carrier’s review.

Determine whether a revision to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations is necessary to implement the compliance review policy revisions.

Develop and implement a recovery plan to complete compliance reviews for those carriers operating for more than 18 months under provisional authority and to establish a compliance review scheduling system for future provisional carriers.

FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson agreed with the recommendations, noting that the agency has already taken steps to improve oversight. 

Those steps include revising procedures for assigning compliance reviews “to provide more time between the date assigned and the end of the 18-month period to alleviate tardiness due to scheduling conflicts and logistical difficulties,” Hutcheson wrote. 

Related articles:

FMCSA changing how it identifies unsafe carriers

FMCSA may face trouble in assessing carrier safety scores

DOT to audit FMCSA’s medical certifications

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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