SPECIAL REPORT: Border opening to Mexican-domiciled trucks

| 2/22/2007

Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007 – The on-again, off-again push to open the southern U.S. border to Mexican-domiciled trucks is on again and moving full speed ahead.

One of the biggest sticking points keeping the border closed to Mexican-domiciled trucks has been who will inspect the trucks and where they will be inspected before they are allowed into the states.

Those questions have apparently been answered.

U.S. officials will travel to Mexico to conduct on-site safety audits of trucking companies, according to an announcement made Thursday afternoon by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters.

Truck safety inspectors working for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will be able to travel to Mexico to conduct safety audits on companies interested in interstate authority to haul cross-border freight into and out of the United States – beyond the commercial zone – as part of a “new program” announced by Peters.

OOIDA officials learned that the “new program” bears a striking resemblance to a pilot program that was announced last year by Maria Cino, who was the acting Secretary of Transportation when she made the announcement.

Peters had been relatively quiet on the pilot program after being named Secretary of Transportation, allowing FMCSA officials to deflect concern about the program by saying there were “no immediate plans” to open the border.

With Thursday’s announcement and information obtained by OOIDA officials, there are more than just “plans” to open the border. The pilot program is happening, and soon.

The program will allow 100 Mexican-domiciled motor carriers access to interstate operations beyond the commercial zone. The audits necessary to approve the carriers will begin within weeks, OOIDA officials have learned.

FMCSA initially received more than 800 applications when the idea of opening the border began being kicked around years ago. That has been trimmed back to 160 applications.

In fact, OOIDA officials have learned, the Department of Transportation already has 100 motor carriers on the list to visit for possible approval into the program. Of the 100 motor carriers, 70 already operate in the U.S. commercial zone – leaving 30 Mexican-domiciled carriers being considered with no experience operating on U.S. soil.

In what could be considered an ironic twist, U.S.-domiciled motor carriers won’t be allowed into Mexico for a few months after Mexican trucks begin operating in the U.S.

Peters visited a local trucking company in Monterrey, Mexico, on Thursday to announce the program with Mexican Secretary of Communications and Transportation Luis Téllez.

Peters said U.S. inspection teams will visit Mexican trucking companies to ensure their trucks and drivers meet the same safety, insurance and licensing requirements that apply to all U.S. truckers. She added the inspectors will evaluate truck maintenance and driver testing for compliance with U.S. requirements.

The inspection teams also will check whether drivers have a valid commercial driver’s license, have a current medical certificate and can comply with U.S. hours-of-service rules.

The teams will review driving histories for each driver the company plans to use to operate within the U.S. and verify the company is insured by U.S.-licensed firms.

Finally, each inspection team will verify that every U.S.-bound truck has passed a comprehensive safety inspection. Trucks lacking required documentation will be subject to a “hood to tail-lamps” inspection by the teams.

“You really have to try hard to look the other direction to ignore the lack of focus on safety in Mexico,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said. “Mexican-domiciled carriers operate in an environment without any attention paid to hours-of-service compliance and one that lacks credible drug and alcohol testing. Those are just a few of the critical safety issues ignored by the Mexican government.”

Spencer said a genuine lack of credible data relating to drivers and Mexican motor carriers complicates assuring true regulatory compliance and safe operation when these motor carriers cross the border.

“I would suspect that this move is more to satisfy the new regime in Mexico while ignoring hard-working Americans in the trucking industry, not to mention safety and security issues that should not be,” Spencer said.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor