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Truckin' the NAFTA highway


      Photo by llspfreelance

Monday’s issue of the Washington Times carried a story by Steve Miller dealing with a supposed compromise on the Mexican truck issue. The story was well-written and factual as far as the author knew.  But, as usual, somebody who gave him the info put their own spin on it. And this issue has seen a whole lot of spin. Most of what follows was posted by me as a comment to the story. Due to space limitations, there’s plenty more left to be said on this issue. The American people, and to some extent, the Mexican truckers will be the losers when this program goes through. And I don’t doubt it will go through simply because the  public will never understand the issue well enough to prevent being misled by special interests. And, there are plenty of special interests involved here.  For their part, CANACAR (the Mexican equivalent of the ATA) has worked against this authorization since its inception because they know it will impinge upon their freight contracts and their wages. This issue is complex enough that it will be posted in two parts:

The author tries to be fair but he's only been given a small part of the story. Although government bureaucrats and 'officials' swear that Mexican trucks meet the requirements, they don’t. Mexico has no real system of driver training, licensing, drug testing, driver physical requirements, safety inspection, cargo securement, hazmat protection, etc. Mexico’s brake standards – one of the most important of safety items -  wont begin to match our standards. They have no maximum hours on duty, other than a supposed national limit of 8 hours work for every worker and no universally required logbooks. In typical third-world fashion, Mexico gets freebies from US-based 'interested parties' who do all the work to set up the systems - and then Mexico wont bother to even follow the procedures. It’s all lip service. This has been going on for nearly twenty years. US carriers have paid out lots of bucks to set up inspection and preventative maintenance systems in Mexico because they want those trucks to roll. Mexico  just holds out their hands for more freebies.

Case in point: The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance has a nationwide system of random inspection of large trucks and buses. Their inspections are stringent and thorough. They tried to set up a three-country system of inspections that were identical. With Canada, cooperation was no problem. Inspectors know what was expected and follow the rules for inspections completely. Mexican inspector candidates listened politely then asked, “How much to you usually charge to give the sticker?” Immediately, they reverted to the system of bribery that the average Mexican citizen uses to get around onerous regulations. Obviously, the CVSA system will be totally worthless in Mexico for Mexican-domiciled rigs simply because the typical Mexican government official psyche is geared toward a completely different interpretation of the word, ‘compliance’.

Every year, the U.S. and Canada engage in a three-day blitz of randomly inspecting trucks to uncover safety and legality issues that have slipped through the cracks. Last year, Mexico said they participated and then couldn’t come up with any figures for quite some time. When they did release official figures, their record of violations was far below what the representatives of the other two countries found-highly suspect. This year, they didn’t participate at all!

La Mordita is alive and well in Mexican trucking and so are drugs. It’s no surprise, if you keep up with the border news to see a  truck or two a week busted at the border for drugs and illegal entrants. I don’t suggest that the Mexican government as a whole supports the bribery system. I do suggest, however, that the system is ingrained deeply enough that lip service to regulation alone will never root it out. Last week, there was a Mexican driver who got caught with over 120 pounds of meth in his reefer unit coming in at Campo. It’s a regular ongoing thing. I also personally know of drivers who have found at delivery that the trailer they picked up at the Mexican border contained drugs of which they had no knowledge. This is an extremely dangerous position for a driver to be in; not knowing may get them a huge federal prison sentence. Or killed. So much for ‘trusted carriers’ and inspection at the border.

We also have Mexican trucks running all over this country without authority, insurance or logbooks simply because it benefits many big-dollar investors and politicians to look the other way. State authorities usually turn them loose because enforcement of international trucking law is a federal issue and they don’t have any directives telling them what to do. To add to the confusion, there are an unknown  total of Mexican domiciled trucks that have been grandfathered into open access and have traveled US roads continuously for many years. Most are no problem as far as we know. There is also some strange system whereby Mexican domiciled trucks get license plates from a US state and Mexican nationals and those living in Mexico can get US CDLs from border states. This is endlessly confusing to law enforcement and, because of the back-and-forth nature of the negotiations and the grandfathered trucks and truckers, they cant sort it out and are often slapped down if they try. Nobody talks about this – and nobody I know of can clarify why this is happening.  Most of our law makers have not the faintest idea this is the case, although DOT apparently does. Some of the loudest critics of those who wish to stop the Mexican carrier border opening are those with US CDLs who live in Mexico.They are the only winners in this game as they are paid US wages and live in low-dollar Mexico. It’s a win for them at everyone else’s expense.

The average, uninformed American citizen also doesn’t realize just how badly drug violence has taken over border towns. Nuevo Laredo’s Chief of Police quit again last week. He actually did quite well. . .he hasn’t been arrested by the Federales and he walked off the job still on his feet. One of their last police chiefs was gunned down after a very few hours in office. Not only are our citizens unaware of the violence happening in border cities, they also don’t understand why it always happens at big border crossing locations. The drug violence in large part is a war for access to the truck routes into the United States. Now, why would you want that if you didn’t intend to use a truck to get it here?

Then, there was the FAST program of automatic entry where pre-approved drivers could just sail through the border with no inspection. I think the count of ‘flatbeds with false floors’ pulled by drivers with a FAST card caught with drugs inbound is around six. . stories that I’ve caught up with anyway. Most were detected at another inspection point rather than the border because FAST gives them a pre-inspected status. Then, there are the schemes for fast crossing and ‘trusted partners’ to ‘speed up freight’ at the border. There’ve been a lot of well-known name carriers’ trailers caught in the last couple of years with contraband. That’s not to say the carrier was involved-except to the extent they contracted with a partner or broker that violated all of our trust and considered their profits more important than national security. Has anybody seen any stories on any of these freight forwarders or freight brokers losing their licenses or performing a ‘perp walk’ over this? I haven’t.

As I said, there’s plenty more to consider in this issue. And what I’ve already put here will likely bring the usual Mexican trucking trolls out of the woodwork.. . many of whom fall into the category of a vested interest. I’ll add more to this tomorrow . . .specifically, how this aids US-based carriers, trans-national companies and Wall Street and hurts the American Middle Class-and Mexican truckers. And what it does for any semblance of national security.