With Teamsters staffers shouting protests from behind yellow police tape, an inspector from the Maryland State Police in front of U.S. DOT headquarters did a safety check of two trucks last month — one from Mexico and one from the US — in a demonstration designed to show that both vehicles met current safety regulations. The red and white Freightliner trucks had their markings and names covered by blue tape in an effort to give an unbiased inspection, but it was clear to many observers that the white truck was indeed from Mexico based on the driver's language and the outline of covered windshield stickers not usually found on US trucks.
The event was held to quell fears in Congress that Mexican trucks are not as roadworthy as U.S. trucks, a position held by The Teamsters and other groups that oppose the NAFTA program. Both the House of Representatives and Senate have passed legislation that would cut off funding for the demonstration project, but a compromise bill has yet to be hammered out. President Bush has said he would veto the appropriations bill as it stands.
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, joined by Mexico's Secretary of Communications and Transportation, Luis Tellez Kuenzler, said: “Secretary Tellez is present because he needs to hear the facts, not the fiction that opponents are putting forth… We want Congress to hear the truth.” Tellez spent the morning talking to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Said Tellez, pointing to the Transportes Olympic and US Xpress trucks: “Opponents want you to believe that Mexican trucks are unsafe. That is not true….The out-of-service rate is the same for trucks in both countries.” He also noted that Mexican drivers are issued licenses federally, leading to uniform compliance, and that drug and alcohol tests are conducted by U.S. laboratories. Referring to the current 25-mile drayage system, Tellez noted: “This program will eliminate the need for three trucks and three drivers, saving millions of dollars.”
When asked what step she will take if Congress does not appropriate funds, Peters said, “Once the bill is final, the president will discuss it with his advisors, of which I am one, and we will go from there.”