News Releases

On August 6, 2001, the following op-ed, written by U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala), was published in the Washington Post.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently sent a reporter to Mexico to ride shotgun with a long-haul Mexican truck driver. The driver was behind the wheel 21 hours per day for three straight days. In the United States this is not legal.

The United States has laws on its books limiting the number of consecutive hours a trucker can be on the road. We periodically test our drivers for drug or alcohol use. We inspect every vehicle. We have a computerized database to check the validity of licenses and the prior violations of anyone licensed to operate a tractor-trailer. We require thorough training for every U.S. trucker on the road.

Mexico has no roadside inspection program or drug testing for drivers. It does not require logbooks or have weighing stations for trucks. It does not have labeling of hazardous or toxic cargo, or a system to verify drivers' licenses.

The Department of Transportation proposed allowing all Mexican trucks into this country on a promise they would be inspected within a year and a half. This approach prompted a swift rebuke by the House of Representatives, which, by a 2-1 margin, voted to ban all Mexican trucks from U.S. highways, while appropriating no funds for new inspectors on the border.

To head off this apparent impasse, the Senate developed a common-sense approach: Inspect the trucks and the trucking companies, then let them in. The Senate approach was passed by large, bipartisan majorities. It will help ensure the safety of our highways while allowing free trade to flourish.

It is a compromise between the Transportation Department's laissez-faire approach of allowing all Mexican trucks into the United States and checking them later, and the House's "strict protectionist" approach of preventing any Mexican trucks from coming in.

Unfortunately, some, including writers for these pages ["NAFTA in Trouble," editorial, July 29, and "The Democrats' Mexican Roadblock," by Ruben Navarrette, op-ed, Aug. 2], have resorted to name-calling, labeling the Senate bill "discriminatory" or "protectionist."

But the concerns raised by the House, public safety advocates, labor unions, law enforcement agencies and even the American Automobile Association are not arbitrary attempts to discriminate against our southern neighbor; they arise from legitimate safety concerns.

It is not discrimination to ensure that the public safety in our own is protected. Federal Aviation Administration safety agents routinely inspect foreign airlines in the United States and abroad, to ensure these carriers are complying with U.S. safety regulations. Coast Guard marine inspectors board Cambodian ships much more frequently than German ships, not because they don't like the Cambodian people, but because we know that Cambodian ships are six times more likely to have a safety deficiency meriting detention.

The safety measures in the Senate bill were stronger than the Transportation Department's proposal, but they were not drafted arbitrarily. They were based on recommendations of the department's inspector general, the General Accounting Office and the law enforcement agencies that deal with Mexican trucks every day, including the highway patrols of California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. These organizations are charged with protecting lives and telling the truth, not frustrating free trade.

In enforcing these safety standards, the Senate bill does not subject Mexican trucks to a different rule book. It does subject Mexican trucks to greater scrutiny to ensure compliance with the same rule book applied to U.S. and Canadian trucks. And it requires that certain safety measures be in place before the trucks start to roll. For example, we would require Mexican trucks to enter the United States only at those border crossings where inspectors are on duty.

Some have labeled the Senate vote on Mexican trucks "anti-Hispanic." Last Tuesday 11 Hispanic House members rejected that charge and praised the Senate compromise for "address[ing] obvious safety concerns regarding Mexican trucks that have been voiced by impartial and knowledgeable observers such as the U.S. D.O.T. Inspector General."

They continued, "The issue of safety on our highways is not an 'Hispanic Issue.' All Americans are equally at risk from unsafe conditions on our highways, whether they be from United States or Mexican carriers."

The Senate compromise on Mexican trucks will allow us to have both free trade and safe highways. NAFTA doesn't require the American people to choose between the two.