Danger On the Highways

On Friday Transportation Secretary Mary Peters unveiled a dangerous experiment. The DOT wants to give 100 Mexican trucking firms full access to U.S. highways.

On the surface you can see why the Teamsters would be against this. It's one more step in the Bush agenda to export good paying American jobs to a foreign country where corporations can fatten their bottom lines by exploiting cheap labor, lax environmental standards and nonexistent safety regulations.

This is about safety, not immigration, not race.

It's about being able to drive down the road with your family and not have to worry about whether the driver in that 18-wheeler in the next lane has slept in the past 20 hours. It's about whether that truck is safe to operate at 65 or 70 miles an hour. It's about whether you can trust anything the Bush administration and Mexican government says.

So far the Mexican government has failed to meet the truck safety and driver training requirements of NAFTA, yet President Bush rewards them with open access to American highways. They are playing a game of Russian roulette and it will be the American driving public who pays the price.

The DOT indicated only a few weeks ago that it was not pursuing this pilot program. What else are they lying about?

Just two years ago, the Department of Transportation Inspector General confirmed that the Mexican government and Mexican motor carriers were not meeting congressionally mandated requirements. Another Inspector General audit report is due in the next couple of months, raising serious questions as to why President Bush is pushing this experimental program now.

Given the Bush administration's track record on the truth, and the Mexican government's history of corruption -- and both governments' recent history of labor relations -- you surely understand why every American should be dubious of this idea.

What about national security? Will the drivers be checked against the terror watch list or will our borders be open to anyone with a Mexican driver’s license? Will the drivers be required to carry a Mexican passport, as U.S. citizens are required to present their passports when entering the country from Mexico or Canada? Would the trucks and trailers be scanned for weapons of mass destruction? The DOT is unable to say how many trucks will be participating in the experiment or whether there will be a system in place to differentiate between those trucks traveling within the 20-mile NAFTA commercial zones currently in place and those permitted to travel throughout the U.S.

What about hours-of-service regulations? Will these rules be applied to drivers in Mexico? How would we know how many hours drivers have worked before crossing our border?

And what about truck maintenance and safety? The DOT asserts that U.S. officials in Mexico will inspect all U.S.-bound trucks in Mexico. How would that affect inspections of shoddy trucking companies in the United States?

According to National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman, only a tiny percentage of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. truck companies are inspected every year as it is. And fewer than 10 percent of all Mexican trucks entering the existing NAFTA commercial zones are inspected. How can the United States spare sending inspectors to Mexico when they are barely able to do the job here?

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, announced a March 8 hearing to determine whether the arrangement meets safety requirements. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oreg.), chair of the House Highways subcommittee, also said Congress will keep a close eye on the program.

But I suggest, and every American who drives should demand, that Congress stop this experiment until these safety and security issues can be fully investigated.

As with the so-called Dubai Ports deal, 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. Can we really afford to expose our country – our families -- to another Bush debacle?

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