Safety advocates say move will endanger motorists and could threaten national security
The news that Mexican trucks will be allowed to haul freight deeper into the United States drew an angry reaction from labor leaders, safety advocates and members of Congress. They said Mexico has substandard trucks and low-paid drivers that will threaten national security, cost thousands of jobs and endanger motorists on the northern side of the Mexican border.
The Bush administration late last month announced its plan to have U.S. inspectors oversee Mexican trucking companies that carry cargo across the border.
“This program will make trade with Mexico easier and keep our roads safe at the same time,” Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said. She announced details of the plan to let 100 Mexican trucking companies travel beyond the border area.
Access to all U.S. highways was promised by 2000 under the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, as was access through Mexico for U.S. carriers.
That aspect of NAFTA was stalled by lawsuits and disagreements between the two countries, though Canadian and U.S. trucks travel freely across the northern border.
The Bush pilot project will let Mexican truck companies travel from Mexico throughout the United States and back. No hazardous material shipments will be permitted.
According to the Transportation Department, U.S. inspectors will inspect every truck and interview drivers to make sure they can read and speak English. They’ll examine trucks and check the licenses, insurance and driving records of Mexican drivers. Inspectors will also verify that the trucking companies are insured by U.S.-licensed firms.
The first Mexican trucks are expected to drive into the United States beyond the border area in about 60 days.
National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman questioned how the U.S. could spare sending inspectors to Mexico when only a tiny percentage of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. truck companies are inspected every year. “They lack the inspectors to conduct safety reviews of at-risk domestic carriers,” Hersman said.
One-fourth of all U.S. trucks are taken off the road after random inspections because they’re so unsafe, she said. An even higher percentage of Mexican trucks are taken off the road at Texas border crossings, she said.
Mexican carriers insist their rigs meet U.S. standards.
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