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
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
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
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.
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
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