San Diego Union Tribune

June 21, 2007

Mexican truck plan's critics denounce feds

Congress-approved rules ignored, nonprofit says

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – Critics of a Bush administration plan to open the border to Mexican truck traffic issued a stinging denunciation yesterday of federal efforts to comply with congressionally mandated safeguards for the plan.


 

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A report from the nonprofit group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety called the yet-to-be-implemented plan to test the safety of Mexican trucks in the United States “a brazen attempt to ram through a major change in public safety policy regardless of the consequences.”

The report claims that the Transportation Department has ignored a series of requirements approved by Congress last month – including measures to ensure that drivers have a sufficient command of English and will obey U.S. laws when they cross the border.

The allegations drew a sharp rebuttal from a top federal official who defended plans for the one-year program, which he acknowledged could begin as soon as this summer.

“I don't know how in the world they can say we are failing when we have fulfilled every congressional requirement that we're being asked to do,” said John H. Hill, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Hill said critics of the program “are looking for any way they can to kill” the plan.

The administration's plans have drawn opposition from many lawmakers – including Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. – and several organizations.

U.S. transportation officials are trying to implement the program as the first step in opening the U.S.-Mexico border to truck drivers from both countries as required by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

So far, 32 Mexican carriers have passed what U.S. officials describe as a rigorous inspection of their operations, vehicles and drivers – which is required to participate in the program. The program is limited to 100 Mexican trucking companies.

Yesterday's report alleges that the Transportation Department is ignoring a congressional requirement that the agency await an assessment from its inspector general verifying that the project complies with the law before going forward.

Hill said the agency would wait for the inspector general's assessment before starting the program. He said he didn't know when that assessment would be complete.

The report also faults the administration for accepting Mexican government procedures for testing drivers for drugs and alcohol.

Noting that the U.S. government would allow blood samples of drivers to be taken in Mexico, the report says, “There is no way to verify that drug samples actually are valid within the chain of custody prior to testing in the U.S.”

Hill said all drivers who have passed the test have had their blood drawn in the United States.

The report casts a skeptical eye on the U.S. expectation that Mexican drivers will obey limits on how many consecutive hours they can drive in the United States, since they do not have to comply with similar regulations in Mexico.

The program would require Mexican drivers to present a logbook showing their driving hours for the previous seven days when they enter the United States. They also are required to keep a logbook while in the country.

Hill said Mexico is not “devoid of all hours-of-service regulations,” though he added that he does not know how strictly they are enforced.

He also said Canadian truck drivers, who are allowed to travel throughout the United States, are permitted to drive more consecutive hours in Canada and yet the difference in laws has not affected their compliance with U.S. regulations.

 

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