There are more Mexican trucks operating illegally in the U.S. than was previously thought, according to a senior Transportation Department official. And they are significantly less safe than U.S. fleets, he said.
Assistant DOT Secretary Peter J. Basso said in testimony to the Senate that as many as 105 Mexican carriers have been operating outside of the border commercial zones without authority. That compares to earlier estimates of 68 Mexican fleets found operating in 24 states.
Basso, who was testifying on truck safety reforms at last week's Senate Transportation Subcommittee hearing, said in his statement that the out-of-service rates for the Mexican trucks are substantially higher than the national average rate. "(This raises) serious concern about the safety of these vehicles."
His report echoed the testimony of DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead, who told the Senators that DOT needs to put even more inspectors on the border than it already has. Since last spring DOT has more than doubled the number of inspectors, from 13 to 40, but it needs between 60 and 125, Mead said.
DOT apparently has clarified whether or not the Mexican carriers are legally in the U.S. Some are permitted to transit the U.S. to Canada and back, and others obtained U.S. authority before a 1982 moratorium was imposed. A third group of U.S.-owned carriers based in Mexico are permitted to operate in the U.S. under certain circumstances.
But most of the Mexican carriers found so far "should not have been there," said Mead. The problem, he said, is that there is no way to prevent them from leaving the commercial zones.
According to Basso, DOT has been discouraging the illegal Mexicans with fines, but it needs on-the-spot enforcement. "Much stronger action must be taken immediately."
He called for states to crack down on Mexican trucks operating outside the zones, and said federal personnel will be stationed at strategic locations outside the zones.
Mead noted that he is preparing a report on this issue that will be released this month.