Mexican carriers have better safety record than U.S. peers, feds say

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Mexican carriers that have been allowed to send trucks beyond the restricted U.S. border zone in recent years have a better safety record than their U.S. counterparts, federal transportation officials said this week.

According to Copley News Service, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said the 859 Mexican carriers had 1.21 percent of their drivers removed from service after failing roadside inspections between 2003 and 2006. By comparison, 7.06 percent of all U.S. truck drivers were taken out of service after failing inspections during the same period, the news service reported.

The figures are intended to provide backing for the Bush administration’s stand that a pilot program allowing Mexican trucks to travel throughout the United States is safe. “It’s consistent with what we’ve been saying all along,” said John Hill, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “It shows that the Mexican carriers have responded to those safety requirements and become as safe – or safer – than what U.S. carriers are.”

In the 1990s, the federal government granted several hundred Mexican carriers with partial U.S. ownership the right to travel in certain states; most of the 859 carriers that currently have authority to travel beyond a 25-mile-wide commercial zone on the U.S. side of the border fit into that category, Hill told Copley. The study also compared the safety record of 6,340 Mexican carriers that are limited to the U.S. border zone; from 2003 to 2006, this group had a driver out-of-service rate of 1.66 percent – still better than the U.S. truckers, Copley reported.

The long-haul Mexican truckers also had the best record for trucks taken out of service as a result of equipment violations, according to the news agency; the long-haul truckers had 21.29 percent of trucks removed from service, compared with 23.5 percent for U.S. carriers. Mexican border carriers had 22.5 percent of trucks denied permission to drive after inspections that revealed violations, Copley reported.

FMCSA announced Wednesday, Sept. 19, that IBC Inc. — a San Diego-based trucking company — and Transportes Rafa — a Mexicali, Baja-based trucking company — both had received authority to make long-haul deliveries in Mexico and the United States, respectively, as part of the cross-border trucking demonstration project. These are the second companies from each country to receive authority since the one-year demonstration was launched Sept. 6, Hill said.

“We are enforcing tough safety standards at every stage of this demonstration as we tap into this unique opportunity to compete in new markets and increase border trade efficiency,” Hill said. “There is tremendous potential to reduce costs for American consumers and businesses while maintaining safety on American roads.”

Transportes Olympic, a Mexican trucking company based in Nuevo Leon, on Sept. 8 became the first Mexican carrier to operate beyond U.S. commercial border zones as part of the demonstration project. Last Friday, Sept. 14, Stagecoach Cartage and Distribution, an El Paso, Texas-based trucking company, became the first-ever U.S. trucking company to haul a shipment across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The pilot program remains under assault from the House and Senate, which have passed separate versions of legislation that would shut down funding for the program. The program would allow up to 100 preapproved Mexican carriers full access to U.S. highways for a year. In turn, U.S. carriers would receive authority to travel in Mexico for the first time as a step toward opening the border to commercial traffic to satisfy conditions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Opponents of the program argue that Mexican trucks have lower safety standards and will pose a danger on U.S. highways. Jerry Donaldson, senior research director at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety — which opposes the pilot program — told Copley News Service that the Department of Transportation’s latest figures are deceptive.

Since the majority of Mexican carriers that have long-haul authority are partially owned by U.S. companies, they are more likely than other Mexican truckers to be familiar with U.S. laws, Donaldson told the news agency. “And because of the fact that they know, and have known for some years now, that they are under scrutiny, I am not at all surprised that they would have a slightly better safety record,” Donaldson told Copley.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association responded to FMCSA’s claims with similar skepticism, citing “numerous other safety and security concerns that obviously just don’t matter to this administration,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president. “It’s the same spin we’ve come to expect. And it’s proof positive the nation’s top truck safety office has had its safety agenda hijacked by global profiteers.

“Congress has spoken. The American public has spoken. It’s time for the DOT to listen.”