New cross-border truck program taking shape

Mexico Untitled 1FMCSA unveils pilot details to ensure Mexican carrier safety

On April 13, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published in the Federal Register a proposal and request for comments for a U.S.-Mexico cross-border long-haul trucking pilot program that would “test and demonstrate the ability of Mexico-based carriers to operate safely in the United States” before being granted permanent operating authority. The program would end three years from the date it is enacted and would grant U.S. carriers reciprocal rights to operate in Mexico during that period.

Last month’s proposal is the latest chapter in the long saga of the on-again off-again program. Until the early 1980s, shortly after the deregulation of the U.S. trucking industry, Mexican carriers could obtain authority to operate in the United States from the Interstate Commerce Commission. U.S. carriers, however, were denied access to markets in Mexico, leading to a litany of complaints.

The passage of the Bus Regulatory Reform Act of 1982 essentially slammed the door on Mexican carriers operating in the United States, and the issue wasn’t revisited until the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 that required the U.S. government to ease geographical restrictions for Mexico-domiciled carriers. Shortly after NAFTA was signed, the United States put the Mexican cross-border long-haul program on hold.

After a lengthy series of lawsuits, in 2007 the two countries hammered out the details of a cross-border trucking demonstration program that eventually would last 1½ years before the Obama administration pulled the plug on funding in 2009, resulting in tariffs levied against U.S. goods entering Mexico.

Earlier this year, the White House reopened discussions with Mexico in the form of an initial concept document for a new cross-border program “that prioritizes safety.”

The rebirth of the Mexican trucks program has left the industry as divided as the U.S.-Mexico border itself. On one side of the fence is the American Trucking Associations, who with many of its member carriers support the program. On the other side is the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, whose administration and members feel like they’re under attack as small business owners.

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“The onus is on Mexico to raise the safety, security and environmental standards for their trucking industry,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president. “We should not allow ourselves to be harassed into lowering our standards.”

A matter of safety

As independent contractors wring their hands over the discussion of a renewed program, larger carriers remain receptive to the idea to the extent that the program is fair and that Mexican carriers operating in the United States are subject to U.S. safety standards.

“This announcement is good news for the U.S. businesses that have been hurt by Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs, including the trucking industry, and we look forward to the U.S. finally living up to its commitments under the North American Free Trade Agreement,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “This proposal requires Mexican carriers to follow all the same rules and regulations that their American counterparts are subject to and takes steps to monitor Mexican trucks to ensure that those rules are being followed.”

The program proposes to use electronic onboard recorders with GPS capability to both track the vehicles of participating Mexican carriers and verify the hours of service of their drivers. The U.S. Department of Transportation says the proposal does not give participating Mexican carriers the option of installing EOBRs or GPS devices.

As part of the proposal, Mexican carriers would be prohibited from point-to-point transportation while operating in the United States and would face civil penalties and be placed out of service, and the Department of Homeland Security could revoke a driver’s ability to enter the United States.

Participating Mexican carriers would designate specific vehicles and drivers they would use, and those power units and drivers would need approval from FMCSA prior to being accepted into the program. Mexican carriers enrolled in the program would have to maintain a certificate of insurance or surety bond on file with FMCSA that would be underwritten by a U.S. insurance or surety bond company. The motor carrier also would be required to maintain a valid Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance decal on each vehicle it enrolls in the program, and any vehicle with a diesel engine would be required to have an emissions control label.

Mexican drivers enrolled in the program would be required to read and speak the English language sufficiently to understand U.S. highway traffic signs and signals, respond to official inquiries and make entries on reports and records required by FMCSA. Carriers and drivers also would be subject to DHS security screening before gaining acceptance into the program.

For more information on FMCSA’s proposed cross-border trucking program and to download a copy of the notice in the April 13 Federal Register, visit

Three stages of FMCSA’s pilot program

Stage 1: Upon acceptance into the pilot program, the U.S. Department of Transportation would provide a Mexican carrier with provisional operating authority and require drivers and vehicles to be inspected every time they enter the United States during the first three months they participate in the program.

Stage 2: Once a Mexican carrier has completed the three-month Stage 1 program, they would proceed to Stage 2, in which they would maintain provisional operating authority and be subjected to inspection rates on par with other Mexican carriers crossing the border. After an 18-month period with provisional authority, a Mexican carrier would be granted permanent operating authority if “the motor carrier obtains a satisfactory safety rating” and “has no pending enforcement or safety improvement actions.” If the carrier has a subpar safety rating, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration could revoke or suspend its operating authority. Carriers that had provisional operating authority in the 2007-2009 pilot program would get credit for that time in the new program.

Stage 3: After being granted permanent authority, a Mexican carrier would proceed to Stage 3, in which it must continue to adhere to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, cabotage restrictions and other considerations.

Standards already met by Mexico

Mexican regulations and procedures that are accepted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration as meeting U.S. requirements:

• Drug and alcohol testing

o Random testing

o Collection of samples

o Laboratory testing

• Commercial Driver’s License

o Issuance

o Training

o Disqualifications

• Medical standards