One crossing, at El Paso, TX, receives an average of 1,300 trucks a day. Federal auditors found that there was only one inspector, and he could look at only 10 to 14 trucks a day. Trucks that aren’t inspected are simply allowed to cross the border into the United States.
Although other crossings did somewhat better, overall, 44% of the Mexican trucks inspected during the 1997 fiscal year were put out of service. That compares to 25% for U.S. trucks and 17% for Canadian trucks.
Lawrence Weintrob, assistant inspector general for auditing at the U.S. DOT, pointed out that unsafe trucks coming into the country from Mexico increases the risk of truck crashes.
The findings are especially worrisome as we pass the five-year anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Under the terms of NAFTA, commercial trucks are supposed to be able to travel freely among the U.S., Canada and Mexico by Jan. 1, 2000. Cross-border trucking within the U.S. and Mexican border states was supposed to have taken effect in December 1995, but the DOT delayed it indefinitely due to safety concerns and pressure from labor groups. Currently, Mexican truckers are allowed to operate only in commercial zones extending from 3 miles to 20 miles north of the border.
The study also found that California’s inspection program is much better than the ones run by the Federal Highway Administration and other border states.