7 a.m. – Francisco Rosas Uribe, his driving partner, Marcoantonio Gomez, and I leave their company yard outside Mexico City in an 18-wheeler full of Costco furniture. They haul for Trans-Mex, a subsidiary of Swift Transportation of Phoenix. The truck is a 2001 Freightliner.
We are headed to Nuevo Laredo, on the Texas border at Laredo. The trip is officially 1,130 kilometers (702 miles), and Rosas says he can do the trip in 14 hours.
Rosas, 30, has been friends with his 24-year-old partner for 10 years. Many Trans-Mex trucks go team. Even though there are no hours regulations in Mexico, this helps with safety. “Since we have two drivers, getting tired is not a problem,” Rosas says, adding that they usually switch after about six hours. Other truck lines that he’s driven for make drivers do two or three trips from Mexico City to Laredo every week. “Some drivers go two or two and a half days with no sleep,” he says.
We are on the four-lane toll road, which is almost as good as U.S. roads. The lips on the edge are 6 inches in places, though, so you have to be careful getting on and off the road at truckstops. There are no entry ramps; you just get back on the highway and go.
10:45 a.m. – An air filter rolls across the road, and Rosas deftly swerves the big rig around it at the last instant. I am still writing this down in my notebook when a bottle hits our roof, thrown by youths from an overpass. Rosas instinctively ducks at the crashing sound. We pass a sign that says, “Drive with Caution: Your family is waiting.”
12 p.m. – Rosas stops for a toll. It’s a cheap one – 45 pesos, or about $5. If we stayed on the toll road the whole way, charges would amount to about $170 between Mexico City and Nuevo Laredo. The shipper can request the toll roads and pay the charges; otherwise, Transmex and other companies use the two-lane free roads.
1:28 p.m. – “What happened?” someone yells over the CB. Francisco looks alert and turns up the volume on his radio. There has been an accident, but it must be behind us because we don’t see anything.
2 p.m. – We pass through one of the five or six inspection points between Mexico City and Nuevo Laredo. Armed military guards either wave you over to inspect your truck for arms and narcotics, or they wave you through, Rosas explains. They wave us through.
2:16 p.m. – The OmniTrac satellite keyboard beeps. It is an “urgent” message, telling Rosas to call the home office in Nuevo Laredo. We pull off the toll road in the town of San Luis Potos
Affected tractors are equipped with an automated Eaton UltraShift Plus or Eaton Advantage Transmission with right hand stalk shifter. In the affected trucks, the display on the instrument panel can indicate “N” when the shifter is set into “D” or “R,” causing the truck not to move.