Mexican trucks now on the road to full use of U.S. highways

sportsou

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Mexican truckers are a step closer to regaining full access to U.S. highways.

On Thursday, trailers at a Mexican trucking company here became the first to be cleared by U.S. safety inspectors as fit to travel U.S. roads.

The rigs still won't be allowed past the commercial zones that extend as far as 25 miles into U.S. territory, but officials of the U.S. Transportation Department said the "on-site safety audits" are among the last obstacles for allowing full access.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, in Mexico for the inauguration of the program in this suburb of Monterrey, wouldn't say when Mexican trucks would be allowed past the commercial zone.

But Transportation Department officials said they expected a pilot program to be announced this year that would permit up to 100 Mexican trucking companies free access to U.S. highways after they clear the inspections carried out by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

"Every single day, hundreds of Mexican trucks operate safely on roads in major cities like San Diego, Brownsville and El Paso," Peters said. "They have already racked up an impressive safety record that is on par with their American counterparts."

Inspections are the same as those applied to U.S. truckers and include mechanical checks of vehicles, background checks on drivers and inspections of insurance documents.

Inspectors will come to Mexico to carry out the safety audits upon request. The U.S. government will pay for the inspections.

Relegated to the commercial zones in 1982, Mexican truckers were supposed to regain access to U.S. highways under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. But concerns over the safety of Mexican trucks and opposition from U.S. truckers have led to numerous delays in the implementation of the agreement.

In 2002, the U.S. Congress agreed to let Mexican rigs return but implemented 22 restrictions, including the stipulation that 50 percent of inspections be carried out in Mexico, according to Transportation Department officials.

Some $250 billion of trade crosses the U.S.-Mexico border each year, Peters said.

"To keep this trade flowing today and to help it grow even more tomorrow, we must begin allowing these trucks to operate beyond the border zone," she said.

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