WASHINGTON – A
federal transportation agency yesterday defended President
Bush's plan to open the border to long-haul Mexican truck
traffic in a response to overwhelmingly negative public
views of the proposal.
The 27-page defense appearing in the Federal Register
advances the controversial cross-border trucking pilot
program one step closer to implementation.
Bush has sought to conduct the program as part of his
effort to comply with a provision of the North American
Free Trade Agreement requiring the United States and
Mexico to open their borders to each other's commercial
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which
would conduct the program, acknowledged that the vast
majority of the more than 2,300 public comments it
received were opposed to the proposed one-year experiment.
But the agency argued that it is committed to making
sure Mexican truck drivers obey all U.S. rules and
regulations during the trial. The program would allow up
to 100 Mexican carriers to send trucks into the United
Opponents – including the Teamsters union, other
trucking and safety organizations and dozens of lawmakers
– contend that Mexican drivers would pose a hazard on U.S.
highways and would displace American truck drivers because
they work for lower wages.
trucks can only travel within a 25-mile border zone in the
United States. U.S. trucks are barred from entering
The agency sought public comment last June, after
making changes to the pilot program to comply with
additional safeguards mandated by Congress in an emergency
The agency responded to critics' worries that Mexican
truck drivers, unlike their American counterparts, are not
required to comply with rules limiting their driving time
or mandating drug and alcohol testing, among other issues.
U.S. officials said that since 2000, Mexican truckers
have been required to keep logbooks showing how long they
have been on the road in case they are pulled over.
The drivers are limited to eight hours of driving
during the day and seven hours at night, the government
said. They also can accumulate up to three hours of
overtime a day, three times a week.
The agency said it has “extensive experience” enforcing
the hours-of-service rules for Mexican carriers who drive
within the restricted border zone.
While Mexico does not require drug and alcohol tests,
officials said the pilot program requires Mexican truckers
certified to drive in the United States to undergo the
“Because there presently are no U.S.-certified
collection facilities and laboratories in Mexico,
Mexico-domiciled long-haul carriers must comply by using
collection facilities and certified laboratories in the
United States, just as their border commercial zone
counterparts have done for a decade,” the Federal Register
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a
national trade association representing small trucking
companies, criticized the administration for proceeding
with its plans despite widespread opposition.
“They are determined to open our highways to
Mexico-domiciled trucking companies and truck drivers
regardless of the concerns that have been raised by
Congress and the American people,” said Todd Spencer, the
organization's executive vice president.
U.S. officials said they plan to implement the program
as soon as they receive a required report from the
Department of Transportation's inspector general and
address any concerns raised in the report.
A spokeswoman for the inspector general declined to say
when the report would be released.