William Quade, Director of Enforcement and Compliance, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
ecent headlines have mentioned a decision to allow trucks from Mexico to enter the United States and drive beyond the border zones. What is the significance of this decision, and what will it mean for law enforcement agencies?
Program History and Parameters
Historically speaking, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1993, setting a timetable to provide Mexican trucking companies with authority to operate beyond the Commercial Zones already established along the border—first throughout the states bordering Mexico and then, by 2000, full access throughout the country. Obviously, this did not occur.
In the years since ratification, the U.S. obligation to implement the provisions of NAFTA has been affirmed by an international arbitration panel and the U.S. Supreme Court. This culminated in February 2007, when U.S. secretary of transportation Mary E. Peters announced a preauthority on-site inspection program as well as a demonstration program that will allow a limited number of Mexican long-haul trucks to operate in the United States.
Specifically, the one-year program allows 100 Mexican carriers to operate north of the border and, for the first time ever, permits access to Mexico for U.S. trucking companies.
Drivers from Mexico will be subject to the same standards as U.S. drivers. They must hold a valid U.S. or Mexican commercial driver’s license (CDL) and comply with all federal safety regulations, specifically drug and alcohol testing, medical standards, and compliance with U.S. hours-of-service regulations. In addition, Mexican drivers must be able to communicate in and understand English.
The Role of State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement
The assistance of all state, tribal, and local inspectors is critically important to the success of the demonstration program. Several points of interest to law enforcement agencies follow:
- Trucks can be identified by an “X” appearing immediately after their USDOT number.
- Every truck Mexican carriers use in the United States must have a valid Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) decal. Trucks without this decal or with one that is close to expiration should be immediately inspected.
- Mexican-based drivers lacking a valid CDL or Mexican Federal License should be placed out of service.
- Trucks belonging to Mexican-based carriers lacking valid operating authority should be placed out of service.
- Mexican carriers must hold insurance from a U.S.-licensed company. Law enforcement officers can easily verify insurance by linking to a company’s licensing and insurance records via Query Central, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Web application that accesses driver, vehicle, and carrier information online. Vehicles not meeting this requirement should be placed out of service.
- One key restriction of the authority granted to these carriers is that they will not be allowed to make point-to-point deliveries within the United States, a service called cabotage. Trucks violating this rule are operating beyond the scope of their carrier’s authority and consequently should be placed out of service.
- Transporting hazardous materials or passengers is prohibited in this demonstration program. Mexican hazmat haulers or passenger carriers found operating beyond the Commercial Zones are committing a serious violation; such vehicles and drivers should be placed out of service.
- Crash data are always important, of course, but it will be especially important to notify the appropriate authority whenever Mexican carriers are involved in crashes while participating in this demonstration program. If an officer is called to a crash involving a Mexican-based carrier, the closest FMCSA division administrator should be contacted as soon as possible.
The partnership of the states in the U.S.-Mexico demonstration project is critical to its success. The FMCSA has put in place layers of safeguards. Secretary Peters recently testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation that the southern border program “safeguard[s] the safety and security of our transportation network even as we strengthen trade with a close neighbor and important partner. . . . This demonstration project . . . will . . . creat[e] new opportunities, new hope, and new jobs north and south of the border.”1 ■
Note: The original version of this article appeared in the spring 2007 edition of the Guardian, the publication of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. Adapted with permission.
1Statement of the Honorable Mary E. Peters, Secretary of Transportation, and John H. Hill, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, March 8, 2007, www.fmcsa.dot.gov/documents/testimony/tst-030807.pdf, May 22, 2007.