Mexican trucking challenge echoes HOS opposition

Free market advocates are on a political collision course with labor groups and highway safety advocates since the Bush administration detailed a one-year demonstration program that will allow 100 Mexican trucking companies unfettered access to U.S. cities last week

Free market advocates are on a political collision course with labor groups and highway safety advocates since the Bush administration detailed a one-year demonstration program that will allow 100 Mexican trucking companies unfettered access to U.S. cities last week. The Mexican truck issue has galvanized trucking interests, unions, and safety groups in a way that parallels the 2004 hours-of-service lawsuit.

Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization that has a reputation for challenging the DOT after it led a lawsuit that struck down a 2003 rule mandating truck drivers’ hours-of-service (HOS), is girding up to face off against the Administration once again. Public Citizen is backed by a safety coalition that’s looking very similar to the group that petitioned with it in the HOS lawsuit—namely the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) and the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Some of the comments issued by the coalition would strike a familiar chord with trucking experts that have followed the HOS litigation.

“I am deeply troubled that DOT is looking the other way on the problem of fatigued and sleep-deprived Mexican truck drivers,” said John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, an umbrella group representing CRASH and PATT. “The U.S. DOT knows that more than 15% of Mexican truck drivers entering the United States don’t even have the proper logbooks that are currently required to show the amount of working, driving and rest time.”

“The problem of adequate enforcement of hours-of-service rules is compounded by a weak and ineffective proposed rule issued by the FMCSA,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, referring to FMCSA’s decision not to require that U.S. trucking companies use electronic on-board recorders. “For trucks crossing the border, this is a particular problem because drivers could have nearly exhausted their hours-of-service limits by the time they enter the United States, and officials won’t be able to enforce any limits.”

The auto safety groups have sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to reconsider the free trade initiative.

“Congress has had to step in more than five years ago and stop the Administration from opening the border until an adequate level of safety was achieved,” said Jacqueline Gillan, vp of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Now Congress needs to step in again. There is an urgent need for oversight hearings on safety and security issues before the DOT rushes to open the southern border.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which also backed Public Citizen in the HOS lawsuit, is condemning the Bush Administration’s plan to open the U.S.’s southern border to Mexican trucking operations for a one-year experimental pilot program, which will allow 100 Mexican carriers to operate on U.S. roads.

“President Bush is willing to risk our national security by giving unfettered access to America’s transportation infrastructure to foreign companies and their government sponsors,” said Jim Hoffa, the Teamsters’ general president. “They are playing a game of Russian Roulette on America’s highways. Mexico refuses to meet their end of the bargain, yet President Bush rewards them with open access to American highways. It is the American driving public who will pay the consequences.”

To date, the U.S. southern border has remained closed to Mexican trucks except for transfers within a 20-mile commercial zone. That’s despite the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 12 years ago that calls for unfettered access to Mexico and the U.S. for their respective trucking industries.

The Teamsters said they would continue to fight against allowing Mexican trucks on U.S. roads due to major safety concerns. The group pointed to a DOT Inspector General report from two years ago that found Mexican motor carriers did not meet Congressionally mandated safety requirements.

“Why is the President willing to move forward when his own Inspector General has stated that Mexico cannot meet its obligations?” said Hoffa. “This is unacceptable and I call on Congress to hold hearings immediately and to put an end to this nonsense.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA), which had also challenged aspects of HOS, opposes the open borders initiative on the grounds that it compromises safety and security.

For additional coverage, read Peters says U.S.-Mexico truck trade about to improve.

To comment on this article, write to Terrence Nguyen at [email protected]

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