Wanted: bilingual truckers

A friend of mine got lost in Paris when he wandered from his hotel to see the sights. He asked directions, but he couldn’t remember the name of his hotel. “It’s on that rue street,” he said in frustration.

Much later he learned that “rue” means “street” in French.

At best, traveling in a country without knowing the language can make for an amusing story. But if you happen to be driving a big rig, it can be downright dangerous.

In the recent brouhaha over allowing Mexican trucks free access within the United States, the language barrier is a critical – and mostly overlooked – element, says owner-operator Paul Todorovich, a former Road Team member who’s leased to Landstar. The focus, he says, has been on the condition of Mexican trucks. But he believes Mexican drivers, who may not be able to read our road signs or communicate with law enforcement officers, pose an even greater threat.

In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations say that truck drivers must be able to “read and speak the English language sufficiently to converse with the general public, to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language, to respond to official inquiries and to make entries on reports and records.”

So there is no alternative, Todorovich says, to Mexican drivers obtaining U.S-comparable commercial driver’s licenses. “The written test should be in English to determine if they comply with the rule, and a thorough road test ought to be mandatory,” he says.

It’s hard to argue with his logic. But the road to free trade runs south, too. It’s only fair that U.S. drivers entering Mexico demonstrate the ability to read and speak Spanish, for their own safety and that of other motorists.

It’s unlikely these and other issues will be resolved by the time the Mexican border opens completely on Jan. 1, 2002. Assuming that date holds, much work will probably remain to put the systems in place that will help ensure safety on both sides of the border. In the meantime, if you have any plans to truck into Mexico, you might want to brush up on your Spanish. When it comes to safety, “no hablo espanol” just won’t cut it.

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