On January 9, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced that after years of controversy and debate, Mexican truckers would be allowed to operate on U.S. highways. Up until now, most have been limited to the commercial zones along the U.S. – Mexican border. To understand the real significance of this, one must look back to 1993 when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed. Under the terms of NAFTA, on January 1, 2001, both Canadian and Mexican truckers would be allowed on U.S. roads. In 1995 however, the Clinton administration put the trucking provisions of NAFTA on hold – but only for the Mexican truckers – citing concerns about the trucks’ ability to meet U.S. safety standards.

In 2001, Congress enacted legislation that would requirement certification on 22 safety standards before Mexican trucks would be allowed to travel beyond the commercial zones. The following year then Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta confirmed that these requirements had been met. Legal challenges however, kept the initiative tied up in court until 2004, when the Supreme Court resolved the matter, ruling that Mexican truckers should be allowed into the United States

In February, 2007, DOT announced a one-year pilot program that would allow selected Mexican carriers to make deliveries beyond the border commercial zones. To participate, truckers were to pass a safety audit by U.S. inspectors, including a complete review of driver records, insurance policies, drug and alcohol testing programs, and vehicle inspection records. Congress however, not to be outdone by the Supreme Court, refused to allocate the funds for the program.

Finally, in 2011, another pilot program began with 15 participating Mexican carriers, and in October, 2014, DOT declared there was sufficient positive data to move forward. Secretary Foxx’s January decision was based on that data. The decision was no doubt also influenced by the fact that Mexico had placed $2 billion in retaliatory trade tariffs on U.S. goods.

The move is not without controversy, and no doubt will be attacked on the legal front. The DOT Inspector General has stated that there was insufficient test data on which to base a decision, and both the Teamsters and the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) have vehemently objected. But after 22 years, I think it is time to move on to other more important issues. The benefits of NAFTA are pretty clear. In 2014, imports and exports between Canada and the U.S. totaled $605 billion, and Mexican trade was up to almost $500 billion.

And what about the safety of Mexican trucks? A significant measurement used by FMCSA is the out of service (OOS) rates gathered from roadside inspections of drivers and their equipment. According to FMCSA, the OOS rate for U.S. trucks averages 20% for equipment and for drivers, 5%. The Mexican carriers were in the 10-13% range for equipment and 0-3.7% for drivers.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch