House OKs another roadblock for Mexico truck plan

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The U.S. House on Tuesday, July 24, voted by voice vote to erect another roadblock in front of a Bush administration plan to allow Mexican trucks full access to U.S. highways. The measure was inserted by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) into a transportation and housing funding bill.

DeFazio’s amendment stated that none of the funds made available under the funding bill would be used to establish or implement the program. The move would block the government’s cross-border pilot initiative for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and comes on top of restrictions imposed in May.

The program, announced in February by the Transportation Department, would allow 100 Mexican trucking companies to haul cargo beyond the current 25-mile border zone. Currently, Mexican trucks are allowed to enter a restricted zone in the United States, near the Mexican border, where they have to unload their cargo. It then is picked up by U.S. trucks.

The proposed yearlong demonstration program is the latest attempt by the Bush administration to resolve the long-running dispute over Mexican trucks in the United States. Opponents of allowing trucks from Mexico access to U.S. highways say such vehicles often don’t meet U.S. safety standards and would cost U.S. jobs.

“This is a paper-based program,” DeFazio said. “They have not inspected physically one Mexican truck. They have not interviewed one Mexican driver. In Mexico, they have no system of drug testing, unlike the United States of America, and no certified drug-testing laboratories, unlike the United States of America. They have no hours of service in Mexico. Mexican drivers are frequently required to drive as long as 72 hours. They take drugs to do it. They freely admit that in the Mexican press.”

The Department of Transportation has said the Department’s independent Inspector General has certified that the pilot program meets eight criteria addressing inspector training, inspection facilities and the development of safety procedures. DOT has said it has invested $500 million since 1995 to modernize border safety facilities and hire and train the more than 500 federal and state inspectors who inspect trucks crossing the border every day.

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DOT has said that as part of the program, U.S. inspectors will conduct in-person safety audits to ensure participating Mexican companies comply with U.S. safety regulations. DOT also will require all Mexican truck drivers to hold a valid commercial drivers license, comply with U.S. medical requirements, comply with all U.S. hours-of-service rules and be able to understand questions and directions in English. Mexican truck companies that are allowed to participate must have insurance with a U.S.-licensed firm and meet all U.S. safety standards, including drug and alcohol testing. Companies that meet these stringent standards will be allowed to make international pickup and deliveries only.

Mexican officials recently listed their own requirements for American carriers wanting to do business in Mexico; they include inspections by Mexican officials of carrier facilities in the United States. Mexico’s pre-authority safety audit also is similar to the American audit, and Mexico uses the same Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance criteria for trucks, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.