SPECIAL REPORT: Bill outlines pilot program safety, security measures

| 3/29/2007

Thursday, March 29, 2007 – Benjamin Franklin said distrust and caution are the parents of security.

If that’s the case, a stand-alone bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by California Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Riverside, that calls for the DOT to meet several criteria before proceeding with the Mexican pilot program should ensure national security – and highway safety.

If passed into law, the bill will force the DOT to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the program is in full compliance with U.S. regulations.

Hunter’s bill – The NAFTA Trucking Safety Act – is not attached to any other legislation. It is a stand-alone bill that will begin working its way through the legislative process.

“Our nation’s roadways and motorists must be protected from potentially dangerous and unsafe vehicle traffic. The NAFTA Trucking Safety Act rightfully applies to Mexican truckers the same rules and regulations applied to American truckers, preventing unqualified and inexperienced motor carriers from traveling the highways and roads within our communities,” Hunter said.

Hunter’s concerns go beyond highway safety. He sees national security threatened by the Mexican pilot program if it goes unchecked.

“Unrestricted cross-border trucking presents potential terrorists, drug smugglers and other criminals the opportunity to quietly enter the United States with unidentified cargo and contraband,” he said. “This is unacceptable in today’s security environment and further underscores the safety and security risks involved with providing cross-border truckers direct access to our roadways.”

Specifically, the bill seeks to keep Mexican motor carriers from being granted authority to operate in the United States beyond commercial zones until several criteria are met.

In an effort to be out in the open with the program, the Secretary of Transportation would be required to publish in the Federal Register a list of all regulations, and how Mexican carriers, trucks and drivers will be required to comply.

A list of the enforcement tools and conditions required by law that will be made available to federal and state motor carrier safety enforcement personnel would also have to be published if the bill becomes law.

Hunter’s bill would also require the DOT to implement a plan in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security to monitor and enforce immigration and customs regulations.

On the road, the bill would guarantee that law enforcement personnel would have the ability to access driver, criminal and security databases to verify the identification, driving record, criminal history and risk to homeland security of any cross-border trucker.

“By submitting Mexican truckers to the same background checks and inspection requirements as their American counterparts, this legislation also includes a very important security element,” Hunter said.

Another hot-button for truckers – the English speaking standard – is also addressed in the bill.

The NAFTA Safe Trucking Act would require the Secretary of Transportation submit a plan to Congress to enforce English language proficiency as already required.

And, rather than just count on a pinky promise by the DOT that all items in Section 350 of the 2002 transportation appropriations legislation, Hunter’s bill would require the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General to independently verify compliance with each condition in Section and submit a report to Congress detailing compliance.

The NAFTA Trucking Safety Act – HR1756 – has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Committee on Homeland Security.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor