President Bush, Dec. 4, 2006, signed into law a provision that will in time grant Mexican trucking companies access to roadways throughout the U.S
According to the U.S. Customs Service, 2,383,471 trucks crossed the border from Mexico to the U.S. in 2000 and, as of September 2001, 1,681,526 trucks had entered the U.S. from Mexico.
According to a study published in February 2001 by Public Citizen, about 1 percent (35,000) of every one million Mexican trucks that cross the border undergo safety and licensing inspections. Of that 1 percent, more than one-third, about 12,250, are turned away because of safety deficiencies.
In all, the Transportation Department (DOT) estimates that opening the border will increase traffic from Mexican trucks to about 7 million from its current level, according to the study. At the time the report was published, there were 101 state commercial truck inspectors and 60 federal inspectors at the border. The DOT estimates covering every one of the 7 million Mexican trucks would require about 32,000 inspectors.
A letter from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, admittedly an interested party, states it this way:
Dear President Bush:
On behalf of hundreds of thousands of American small business truckers, the Owner?Operator Independent Drivers Association (“OOIDA”) asks you to maintain the current border restrictions on Mexican trucks until there is a system in place to ensure that Mexican trucks comply with U.S. laws related to safety, immigration, and customs.
Our initial concern is with the safety of trucks and motor carriers from Mexico. Our members own the trucks they drive and spend most of their time working on our nation’s highways. They believe that the Mexican trucks that already use our highways are in terrible physical shape and fall well short of compliance with our safety regulations. Indeed, this fact has been backed up by research by the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation.
Additionally, there are no weight limits on trucks in Mexico as we have in the U.S. It is not unusual for one load on a truck from Mexico to be split up onto two American trucks in order to be legally hauled on U.S. highways. If our current border enforcement can only inspect a minute percentage of Mexican trucks that come into the U.S. today, we will surely see a major influx of unsafe, overweight Mexican trucks should we further open our border.
This safety concern also encompasses Mexico’s relatively lax regulation of its truck drivers. Although Mexico does require that a truck driver obtain a Commercial Drivers License (“CDL”) and receive a physical exam, these requirements are much less stringent than those required of U.S. drivers. In addition, U.S. drivers also face periodic, unannounced drug testing, and are subject to hours-of-service limits. Mexican drivers do not face either requirement. There is no way for federal or state enforcement officials to reasonably believe that a Mexican driver is drug-free, or know how many hours that driver has been working behind the wheel. These are two driver issues that our Department of Transportation and state enforcement agencies take very seriously in regard to U.S. drivers.
Whereas U.S. officials can use a computer to check a U.S. drivers identity, the validity of the CDL, a record of the driver’s history of violations, and the validity of a liability insurance certificate, none of this information about Mexican drivers and motor carriers is automated. We understand that U.S. border officials have become experienced in spotting a counterfeit Mexican CDL, but once that trucker is past the border, our non-border state officials have no expertise to do this job.
Similarly, U.S. motor carriers are required to register with the U.S. Department of Transportation where a safety rating is maintained on computer. This information is used to identify unsafe carriers who then receive on-site safety audits. No safety record is now kept on Mexican Carriers in Mexico or the United States, and even if such records were kept, the Mexican carriers would be outside of the jurisdiction of DOT enforcement personnel to perform on-site safety audits.
Our members must share the road with every vehicle, and safety is a high priority. Without a comprehensive system in place to enforce the physical standards for a safe truck, the minimal requirement for a safe driver, or the ability to verify liability insurance, public safety on our highways is greatly compromised. Furthermore, it is simply unfair to U.S. businesses that Mexican drivers and motor carriers will not face the same level of scrutiny as U.S. trucks, drivers, and motor carriers for the privilege of using U.S. roads.
Safety is not the only challenge Mexican trucks and drivers pose to the United States. OOIDA is concerned that neither the Immigration and Naturalization Service nor Customs Service are prepared to oversee the compliance by Mexican drivers and trucks with laws enforced by those agencies. Under NAFTA, a Mexican truck can only deliver a cross-border shipment to a destination in the United States, pick up another shipment for return to Mexico, or drive through the United States on the way to Canada. We have no system in place to ensure they adhere to these restrictions.
When a Mexican truck driver begins to illegally haul between two points within the United States (as they are already doing, virtually unchecked), he or she has begun to perform domestic work within the U.S. and must have proper documentation (such as a green card) to do so. When a Mexican truck begins to haul between two points within the United States, that truck has technically been imported into the U.S. and all applicable duties and tariffs must be paid on it. The INS and Customs Service are unprepared to supervise compliance with these rules by thousands and thousands of Mexican drivers and trucks. If these laws are not enforced and low paid Mexican drivers are allowed to operate freely within our borders, they will quickly depress already inadequate truck driver earnings in the United States and drive many experienced and capable American drivers out of business. This is not the old labor argument against cheap foreign labor in another country. This is about cheap labor being used to undercut our workers and small businesses on our own soil.
Federal agencies have been unsuccessful in enforcing our laws with the limited numbers of Mexican trucks coming into our country today. States and localities, who perform the primary trucking enforcement role in the U.S. are completely unprepared to assist in the enforcement with these federal issues.
In order to mitigate the adverse effects of the NAFTA panel decision, OOIDA requests that you and your administration delay implementation of that decision until the relevant agencies have in place the manpower and procedures necessary to enforce our laws as we have the right to do under NAFTA.
You can also go to the Truck Safety Coalition www.trucksafety.org and see that consumer advocates agree that allowing trucks from Mexico onto US roads, as the law is currently written, is dangerous.