Mexican trucks not required to have safety check for 18 months

Wednesday, May 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Mexican tractor-trailers won't have to undergo a U.S. safety check for up to 18 months after they have full access to American roads under proposed federal rules announced Tuesday.

Critics pounced on that aspect of the plan, saying the trucks should be thoroughly inspected before being allowed to operate in the United States to ensure American motorists aren't sharing the road with unsafe vehicles.

Under the rules, Mexican trucking companies will be required to provide detailed information about their safety practices and show they are in compliance with U.S. trucking regulations, said Dave Longo, spokesman for the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration, which devised the plan. Then, within 18 months, U.S. officials will check the paperwork for accuracy.

``The companies that apply will have to assure us that they are operating a safe company,'' Longo said, though he acknowledged Mexican truck safety monitoring is below U.S. standards.

The Mexican trucks also will be subject to spot inspections by U.S. authorities as they cross the border and to roadside inspections. President Bush's budget plan calls for $88 million to build inspection facilities and hire safety inspectors, though critics say that isn't enough to cover the tens of thousands of trucks expected to cross the border each year.

Bret Caldwell, spokesman for the Teamsters union, which represents U.S. truckers, said the plan doesn't safeguard U.S. motorists.

``What they are saying is a Mexican carrier fills out paperwork and the United States grants a permit based on paperwork,'' he said.

The North American Free Trade Agreement called for Mexican trucks to have unrestricted access to highways by 1995 in border states _ Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona _ and full access to all U.S. highways by January 2000.

The Clinton administration, citing safety concerns but also under pressure from unions representing U.S. truckers, refused to implement the provisions. Mexican trucks now are limited to a zone north of the border, where they transfer their loads to American trucks.

A NAFTA arbitration panel ruled in February that the United States was in violation of the treaty. Bush pledged to comply and his administration began working on the rules.

The public has until July 2 to comment on the proposed rules, after which final rules will be issued. The transportation department wants the rules finished in time for trucks to be operating in the United States before the end of the year.

Under the proposal, all Mexican trucks that already operate or plan to operate in the United States must apply for permission to drive on U.S roadways. If the application is in order, they will be allowed to do so.

Then, within 18 months, the safety audit will be conducted. It will include a review of the carrier's safety records, medical qualifications, driver logs, drug and alcohol testing results, and records on vehicle inspection, maintenance and repair.

All trucks will be required to be registered with the Mexican transportation department. U.S. transportation officials have access to Mexico's truck registry, Longo said.