DOT's Experiment Puts Us All at Risk
by Teamsters, Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 05:17:32 AM EST
Cross posted from DailyKos
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 regulations.
Some may call us xenophobic or racist. But it's not about race or bigotry. It's about safety. 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.
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 found that the Mexican government and Mexican motor carriers did not meet congressionally mandated requirements. An 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 ahead of that report.
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.
Can we really afford to expose our country to another Bush debacle? And what are the benefits?
According to the DOT press release:
Secretary Peters said the new demonstration program was designed to simplify a process that currently requires Mexican truckers to stop and wait for U.S. trucks to arrive and transfer cargo. She said this process wastes money, drives up the cost of goods, and leaves trucks loaded with cargo idling inside U.S. borders.
So is saving a few cents on Chinese stitched tube socks at Wal-Mart really worth risking your family's safety? Surly there are other economic benefits ...
U.S. trucks will get to make deliveries into Mexico while a select group of Mexican trucking companies will be allowed to make deliveries beyond the 20-25 mile commercial zones currently in place along the Southwest border.
Now for some a trip to Mexico may sound nice -- especially in February -- but our own investigative reporting has revealed that even Mexican drivers aren't too keen on the idea of making some deliveries in their own country:
And every man at the table agrees on their biggest problem -- the government. And by that they mean the police, especially federal, who rob them at will.
"If you drive to Mexico City," another driver adds, "you are robbed, for sure. Police are the first to rob you. If you report a robbery, the police try to make you the guilty person."
If that is the case, then how seriously can you take this statement:
"Safety is the number one priority and strict U.S. safety standards won't change," Secretary Gutierrez continued. "We will continue to work closely with President Calderon and his administration on ways we can further enhance the commerce of our countries and the competitiveness of our hemisphere without sacrificing safety or security."
Well, ending habitual hijackings would be a start. And if you can't do that how are you going to ensure that this "select group of trucking companies" operates safely?
Secretary Peters noted that the Department of Transportation has put in place a rigorous inspection program to ensure the safe operation of Mexican trucks crossing the border. Yesterday, Peters and Mexican Secretary of Communications and Transportation Luis Téllez announced a program to have U.S. inspectors conduct in-person safety audits to make sure that participating Mexican companies comply with U.S. safety regulations. The regulations require all Mexican truck drivers to hold a valid commercial drivers license, carry proof they are medically fit, comply with all U.S. hours-of-service rules and be able to understand questions and directions in English.
But in an AP report National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman "questioned how the U.S. could spare sending inspectors to Mexico when only a tiny percentage of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. truck companies are inspected every year."
"They lack the inspectors to conduct safety reviews of at-risk domestic carriers," Hersman said. "That situation only gets worse if resources are diverted to the border."
One-fourth of all U.S. trucks are taken off the road after random inspections because they're so unsafe, she said. An even higher percentage of Mexican trucks are taken off the road at Texas border crossings, she said.
Less than ten percent of all Mexican trucks entering the existing 20-mile commercial zones along the Mexican border are inspected now. And shifting resources south of the border is likely to tax the system of domestic inspections further - I feel better already.
And even if inspections do keep out the unsafe vehicles, how will we know that Mexican drivers are actually keeping their promise to obey hours-of-service rules?
... Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, said inspections will be meaningless because the trucks won't be equipped with black boxes that record how long a driver has been behind the wheel.
"They have no way of telling how many hours these truck drivers have been driving before they get to the U.S., let alone when they get here," Claybrook said.
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 limited to the current NAFTA 20-mile commercial zones and those permitted to travel throughout the U.S.
The AP story goes on to say that 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-Ore., chair of the House Highways subcommittee, also said Congress will keep a close eye on the program.
Hearings are a must. And this half-wit idea must not be allowed to happen. Write your representatives and senators today and demand hearings. Let's keep our roads safe.