San Diego Union Tribune

September 19, 2007

Mexican trucking firms best U.S. peers on safety, feds say


WASHINGTON – Mexican commercial carriers that have enjoyed a little-publicized right to send trucks beyond a restricted U.S. border zone in recent years have a better safety record than their U.S. counterparts, federal transportation officials said yesterday.



The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said the 859 Mexican carriers had 1.21 percent of their drivers removed from service after failing roadside inspections – for violations such as not possessing a valid driver's license – between 2003 and 2006.

By comparison, 7.06 percent of all U.S. truck drivers were taken out of service after failing inspections during the same period.

The figures, which are part of a larger study, provide backing for the Bush administration's contention that a controversial pilot program allowing preapproved Mexican trucks to travel throughout the United States is safe.

“It's consistent with what we've been saying all along,” said John Hill, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “It shows that the Mexican carriers have responded to those safety requirements and become as safe – or safer – than what U.S. carriers are.”

The agency launched the pilot program less than two weeks ago. It remains under assault from the House and Senate, which have passed separate versions of legislation that would shut down funding for the program. Final legislation to end the program has not yet won passage in Congress.

The pilot program would allow up to 100 preapproved Mexican carriers to send trucks throughout the United States – beyond the border zone – for a year to test the safety of cross-border trucking.

U.S. carriers also would receive authority to travel in Mexico for the first time as a step toward opening the border to commercial traffic as required in the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

Opponents of the program argue that Mexican truck drivers are used to lower safety standards and lax enforcement and will pose a danger on U.S. highways.

The Transportation Department's figures are deceptive, said Jerry Donaldson, senior research director at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which opposes the pilot program.

Since the majority of Mexican carriers that have long-haul authority are at least partially owned by U.S. companies, they are more likely than other Mexican truckers to be familiar with U.S. laws, Donaldson said.

“And because of the fact that they know, and have known for some years now, that they are under scrutiny, I am not at all surprised that they would have a slightly better safety record,” he said.

The Bush administration argues that the pilot program's record checks and safety inspections will hold Mexican trucking companies to the same standards as those for U.S. companies.

The 859 Mexican carriers that currently have authority to travel beyond a 25-mile wide commercial zone on the U.S. side of the border are part of a select group.

Since 1982, most Mexican carriers have been barred from traveling beyond the border zone. However, in the 1990s, the federal government granted several hundred Mexican carriers with partial U.S. ownership the right to travel in certain states.

Most of the 859 carriers with exemptions fit into that category, Hill said. Three of those retained operating authority that they possessed before the border was closed, he said.

U.S. transportation officials released the safety figures in response to reporters' questions.

The study also compared the safety record of 6,340 Mexican carriers that are limited to the U.S. border zone. From 2003 to 2006, this group had a driver out-of-service rate of 1.66 percent – better than the U.S. truckers but not as good as long-haul Mexican carriers.

The long-haul Mexican truckers also had the best record for trucks taken out of service as a result of equipment violations.

The long-haul truckers had 21.29 percent of trucks removed from service, compared with 23.5 percent for U.S. carriers. Mexican border carriers had 22.5 percent of trucks denied permission to drive after inspections that revealed violations.

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