A year before Mexican trucks are to gain full access to highways in the United States, a report by the Department of Transportation's inspector general says not enough of the trucks coming across the border now are being inspected.
In 1997, the report says, 110 federal and state inspectors examined 17,332 of the 3.5 million trucks entering the US from Mexico. Only California has sufficient inspections.
A disturbing 44 percent of inspected Mexican trucks required repairs before they could proceed onto US roads. Under the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexican trucks were to have unlimited access to US highways in December 1995, but that was postponed for safety reasons. Until next year, they can travel only within designated US commercial zones.
The inspector general blames the Federal Highway Works Administration, which it says has neither a safety program in place nor a plan to implement one. US drivers have enough problems dealing with big rigs on the highways as it is. They need assurance that thousands of Mexican trucks to be added to the mix are safe.
The Transportation Department should move to implement a safety program of its own or assist border states in beefing up their programs.
Congress should make sure this gets done. US companies can do their part by insisting that their Mexican shippers follow basic safety standards. Ultimately, it will be in their financial interest to do so.