U.S. to Require EOBRs on Trucks From Mexico and Plans to Pay for Them With Federal Money

By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the March 14 print edition of Transport Topics.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will require all Mexican trucks entering the United States to be equipped with electronic onboard recorders — and will pay for them — an agency spokeswoman said last week.

The mandate for the EOBRs, which also must be equipped with Global Positioning System capabilities, is part of the cross-border trucking agreement announced earlier this month by President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

The announcement that the agency would pay for EOBRs on Mexican trucks was made only weeks after FMCSA announced a proposed rule that would require U.S. carriers to install EOBRs on their trucks at their own expense.

Reaction to the FMCSA plan was sharply negative.

The cross-border trucking agreement calls for the United States to allow Mexican trucks to deliver freight here in return for Mexico’s dropping $2.4 billion a year in retaliatory tariffs it imposed on U.S. products after Congress shut down a cross-border pilot trucking program in effect from 2007 to 2009.

The EOBR mandate is aimed at quelling concerns over Mexican drivers’ hours-of-service issues raised by Congress, the Teamsters union and some industry trade groups.

“During the previous program, stakeholders expressed concern about the number of hours Mexican commercial drivers spent operating behind the wheel,” said Candice Tolliver, an FMCSA spokeswoman.

“To be effective, FMCSA must have consistent monitoring of these EOBR devices,” Tolliver said, “and the best way to achieve this high level of oversight is for the United States to own the devices generating the data on Mexican carriers. The alternative would limit FMCSA to on-site compliance reviews for obtaining safety-critical hours-of-service data.”

Most trucks from each country have not been allowed to deliver freight beyond a 20-mile-wide border zone, although cross-border trucking was mandated by the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, with which the United States did not comply until 2007.

By contrast, Canadian carriers can obtain operating authority to deliver and pick up freight between points in the United States and Canada. However, they cannot pick up or deliver freight between two points within the United States.

FMCSA did not provide a cost estimate for the Mexican truck EOBRs. However, in its Jan. 31 announcement on the proposed EOBR mandate for U.S. carriers, the agency said the cost of purchasing and installing EOBRs would range from $1,500 to $2,000 per truck, plus several hundred dollars annually in service fees for each unit.

Although some industry trade groups declined to comment on the mandate last week, Steve Williams, chairman of the Alliance for Driver Safety and Security, called the plan “the height of stupidity.” Williams is also chairman and CEO of Maverick USA, primarily a flatbed carrier.

The alliance includes Schneider National, Maverick, J.B. Hunt, Knight Transportation and U.S. Xpress Enterprises. Many member fleets have installed EOBRs voluntarily on their trucks and are pushing mandatory EOBR legislation in Congress.

“While everyone agrees that EOBRs are critical for safety and the alliance is committed to seeing an EOBR on every truck in America, it is the height of stupidity for our government to subsidize foreign companies,” said Williams.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), long an opponent of allowing Mexican carriers into the United States, objected in a March 10 letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to using highway trust fund revenue to purchase EOBRs for Mexican trucks.

He said the agency spent $1.25 million on devices for 27 carriers under the previous pilot program and that the Mexican trucking companies were allowed to keep the devices when the program ended.

“I strongly support the requirement that carriers use EOBRs to demonstrate compliance with hours-of-service laws . . . ” DeFazio said. “However, it is outrageous that U.S. truckers, through the fuel tax, will subsidize the cost of doing business for these Mexican carriers.”

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, called the plan “absurd.”

“At the same time the agency is doing all in its power to mandate truckers, making our guys spend their own hard-earned dollars to buy technology that won’t do the job the agency claims it will do, it’s saying they should also spend their money through the Highway Trust Fund to buy these units for Mexican trucks,” Spencer told Transport Topics.

John Hill, who was FMCSA’s administrator during the 2009 cross-border pilot program, told TT last week that FMCSA paid for GPS systems to be installed on all Mexican trucks that participated in the Bush administration-era program.

Hill said that because the program was controversial in the United States, he decided to monitor the movement of Mexican trucks to help dampen criticism.

“What I kept hearing was, ‘You have no way to monitor their hours of service,’ ” Hill said. The GPS system allowed him to counter arguments that Mexican trucks were “running wild.”

He said FMCSA could be criticized this time for supplying free EOBRs while requiring U.S. truckers to buy their own. “I think there will be a lot of carriers in the U.S. that will expect the same kind of treatment.”

Although the details of the border-crossing agreement are still being completed, Mexican officials said they expect the first trucks to cross the border in about four months.

The countries are expected to sign the agreement in June, triggering the Mexican government to drop 50% of its retaliatory tariffs, according to a transcript of a March 6 news conference held by Dionisio Perez-Jacome, Mexico’s minister of communications and transport. The remaining tariffs would be dropped after the first Mexican truck crosses the border, officials said.

The agreement will not limit the number of motor carriers wishing to cross the border in either direction, and carriers from both countries will face the same requirements, Perez-Jacome said.