Ready to roll?

| April 01, 2007

Mexican trucks wait at the final checkpoint before entering the United States at the Laredo World Trade Bridge.

Congressional transportation leaders attacked the U.S. Department of Transportation’s pilot cross-border trucking program, which DOT Secretary Mary Peters says will allow American truckers into the Mexican marketplace as well.

Peters said at a Feb. 23 news conference that when the initial safety audits are done and proof of insurance verified, the first Mexican trucks authorized under the pilot program will begin traveling beyond the border areas. Using her estimated 60 days, Mexican trucks could start traveling beyond the U.S. commercial border zone this month.

“The trucks must be insured by a U.S.-licensed firm,” she said. “And from hood to tail lamps, they must meet United States safety standards, including brakes, turn signals and cargo-securing equipment.”

Until 1982, Mexican trucks could drive anywhere in the country, Peters noted. Currently, American trucks also are restricted from cross-border trucking. But this new program, which will admit up to 100 Mexican carriers, will allow an equal number of U.S. trucking companies to cross the border and compete in Mexico. Sixty of those 100 Mexican carriers already do business in the United States.

No U.S. carrier has applied yet to do business in Mexico, but U.S. carriers have purchased Mexican carriers, Peters said.

Two prominent Democratic congressmen – U.S. Rep. James L. Oberstar of Minnesota, the House Transportation Committee chairman, and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, who leads the Highways and Transit Subcommittee – criticized the move.

“It is impossible to know how many hours or days a driver has been behind the wheel of a truck in Mexico, without rest, prior to crossing the border and entering our highways,” Oberstar said. “Anecdotal evidence from news reports suggests that working hours for truck drivers in Mexico go far beyond anyone’s estimate of a safe, reasonable limit.”

He added that U.S. officials lacked sufficient oversight and established controls for drug and alcohol testing of Mexican truckers. DOT representatives said the Mexicans’ urine tests are required to be processed in U.S. labs.

DeFazio said he was “dubious” Mexican trucks and drivers will meet safety and environmental standards equal to those of the United States.

“Under the North American Free Trade Agreement the U.S. has consistently compromised its environmental and labor standards,” DeFazio said. “Now we’re being asked to risk the safety of citizens on highways and in communities where these trucks will travel. You can be sure Congress will be keeping a close eye on the implementation of this pilot program.”

DOT representatives said Mexican CDL tests are comparable to U.S. tests. Whatever hours a Mexican driver accumulates before crossing the border will count as HOS on his logbook, and Mexican drivers are required to keep logbooks to U.S. standards, the DOT said.

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