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.
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
“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
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
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
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
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