SPECIAL REPORT: DOT inspection of Mexican truck fails to impress

| 10/18/2007

Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007 – The staged inspection of the first Mexico-based truck to deliver a load in the U.S. as part of the Bush administration’s cross-border program proved nothing, according to numerous opponents of the program.

Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez staged a press conference in Washington, DC, Oct. 17, along with Luis Tellez, Mexican Secretary of Communications and Transportation.

Two trucks were inspected during the press conference, one from Mexico and one from the U.S.
The Mexican truck came from Transportes Olympic, one of the first companies admitted to the DOT’s controversial cross-border trucking pilot program.

The DOT claims the point of the press conference was to demonstrate the safety of the Mexican trucks and to urge Congress to stop its efforts to halt the pilot program.

Opponents came out strong, calling the staged inspections everything from a “diversion” to being outright “insulting.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association blasted the staged inspections, likening them to a magic act.

“Akin to a magician’s pretty assistant distracting an audience from what he is up to, this is just another attempt by DOT to divert attention away from the program’s deficiencies,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

“It’s a sleight of hand that shows nothing. There are very real safety and security problems that still exist.”

The Association contends the DOT officials still have not shown how they will effectively deal with safety and security issues. These issues include thorough background checks and drug testing, as well as enforcement of regulatory issues such as hours of service and cabotage. Spencer said the challenges to provide security is not just a border issue.

“It includes assuring safe operation as Mexican-domiciled trucks throughout the United States,” said Spencer.

“They can’t even do that with trucks in the U.S., let alone every single truck that is bound to cross the border,” added Spencer. “Illusionists are able to make you think you are seeing something that is not there, and that’s exactly what they’re attempting today.”

OOIDA wasn’t alone in its criticism of the program. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters released a statement calling the inspections “insulting.”

“Does the Bush administration think we’re stupid?” asked Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa in a press release. “It’s insulting to the intelligence of the American people to suggest that a staged truck inspection before the news media proves anything.”

Leaders from the private advocacy group Public Citizen were equally unimpressed by the event.

“While this public relations dog and pony show represents a transparent effort to assure skeptics that Mexico-domiciled trucks will not pose a threat to U.S. highway safety, Secretary Peters must have overlooked the fact that such frivolous antics cannot possibly remedy the pilot program’s serious and ongoing safety deficiencies,” a Public Citizen press release stated.

The watchdog group’s press release stated that “citizens and lawmakers alike must view today’s sham-inspection press ploy as exactly what it was: a weak, staged attempt to alleviate unresolved, persistent and dangerous safety oversights within the pilot program.”

The program already has the attention of lawmakers and several legislators voiced their disgust with the media event.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, said the inspection “means nothing.”

“The information we need to ensure the safety of American drivers on American highways is not available. That includes vehicle inspection and drivers’ records and accidents reports. None of that information is available. An ‘inspection’ of a hand-picked Mexican truck at a press conference doesn’t change that,” Dorgan said in a press release.

Both chambers of Congress included language in their Fiscal Year 2008 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations legislation that seeks to cut off funding of the cross-border program.

The separate versions of the appropriations legislation passed both the House and Senate. The bills are set to head to a conference committee that will hammer out differences. Once a final version is settled on, the legislation will be sent to the president for a signature.

Of the 12 appropriations bills that will fund the federal government for the next year, President Bush has threatened to veto 11 of them – one of which may be the transportation appropriations bill.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor