Mexican trucks present hazards for border states
For safety reasons, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has delayed indefinitely the opening of U.S. highways in border states to Mexican trucks. Under the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexican trucks were to have gained expanded access to U.S. highways in border states and U.S. trucks were to have gained access to Mexico`s northern highways on December 18, 1995. Among the issues raising safety concerns are the following:
Almost 75 percent of the $100 billion in U.S. trade with Mexico is delivered by truck, predominantly by way of Texas. More than a fourth of the approximately 5,000 Mexican trucks crossing into Texas every day carry corrosives, chemicals, explosives, jet fuel, and pesticides.
Several Mexican trucks exploded or leaked toxins that threatened the Texas water supplies.
The volume of trucks involved makes it impossible for authorities to monitor the trucks closely. Reportedly, at least 4,000 Mexican trucks cross the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge in downtown Laredo on an average day; 20 customs agents are available here to work the import dock.
Serious tragedies occur almost weekly. One sulfuric acid spill in Laredo involved a 16-year-old driver who had no insurance or shipping papers and was driving a rig with faulty brakes and half of its tires bald.
In a recent telephone interview, David DeCarme, chief of the Maritime and Surface Division in the Secretary of International Transportation and Trade Office of the U.S. Department of Transportation, reported that his office has had two sets of discussions with the Mexican government aimed at resolving these issues and that additional meetings have been scheduled. Until the issues have been resolved, DeCarme says, truck traffic from Mexico will be restricted to levels allowed under the old certificate of registry. “We want greater assurances that Mexican motor trucks are in compliance with all U.S. safety regulations under NAFTA before they come across the border,” he stresses. “At issue is our capability to ensure compliance when they come across the border. We would like compliance to be a bilateral effort, which makes for a wider sampling of carriers,” he adds.
Differences in safety regulations among the three NAFTA countries (Canada, Mexico, and the United States) have compounded the issues. Truckers in the United States, for example, are limited to 10 hours of driving time each day and in Canada to 13 hours each day, but Mexico has no limit. In addition, of these three countries, only the United States requires random drug testing.
The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) lauded the DOT`s decision to delay further opening of U.S. southern borders to Mexican trucks. IAFC President Fire Chief P. Lamont Ewell notes that the unsafe trucks “pose a threat to the public and to fire and emergency personnel who respond to accidents involving these trucks.”
Alfred K. Whitehead, general president of the IAFF, cited a recent study in which only 122 out of 835 Mexican trucks entering Texas with hazardous cargo carried signs or placards identifying their loads. Of the 122 signs, he added, 65 were wrong. He cites also a random inspection of 400 trucks that crossed the border in Laredo in which the cargo and paperwork failed to match 90 percent of the time. Moreover, Whitehead noted the following: Drivers of Mexican trucks are not required to have the same kind of hazardous material training as their American counterparts; Mexican trucks on the average are three times older than American trucks, are up to twice as heavy, and are not required to have front brakes; and these trucks have far weaker pollution and liability insurance standards than U.S. trucks.
Under the original provision of NAFTA, Mexican trucks are to be allowed unlimited travel throughout the United States in the year 2000.