A pilot program to test the safety of allowing Mexican truckers to carry cargo long-haul across the United States has major faults and is seriously behind schedule, having enlisted only four out of the 46 carriers needed for an accurate sample, according to a recently released federal audit.
"At this point, no statistically reliable projections or estimates can be made on important safety characteristics, such as the number of crashes that could be expected from long–haul Mexico-domiciled carriers," the document says.
Auditors also found that U.S officials "did not comply with new English language proficiency requirements for testing Mexican truck drivers on traffic and road signs during two of three" safety inspections they observed.
In addition, federal "quality assurance personnel approved [inspection] results for two of three Mexico–domiciled carriers before verifying that required driver’s license testing had been completed, and made errors in determining whether one potential carrier complied with Federal drug and alcohol testing regulations."
The auditors say they found that "Mexico–domiciled drivers may not recognize all critical road signs. For example, drivers who did not pass the road sign test were often unable to explain the meaning of 'Railroad Crossing' and 'Wrong Way' signs in either language."
The document, released August 16 by the Department of Transportation's office of Inspector General, concludes that "The low participation in the pilot program puts [the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)] at risk of not meeting its goals for providing an adequate and representative sample of Mexico–domiciled carriers and inspections necessary to assess the impact on motor carrier safety."
Of the four Mexican trucking companies currently in the program—Transportes Olympic, Moises Alvarez Perez, Baja Express Transportes, and Transportes Del Valle—three are Tijuana-based. The other is headquartered in Nuevo Leon.
"Moises Alvarez Perez is a one–truck and one–driver carrier from Tijuana. This carrier participated in the previous pilot program and was approved for the second pilot program on December 28, 2011. Moises Alvarez Perez has remained within the border States.
"Baja Express is a one–truck and one–driver carrier from Tijuana. Baja Express entered the pilot program as a new carrier operation and was granted authority on March 30, 2012. Baja Express has remained within the border States for 5 of its 35 crossings and within the commercial zone for the other 30 crossings.
"Transportes del Valle is a one–truck and one–driver carrier from Tijuana. Transportes del Valle entered the pilot program as a new carrier operation and was granted authority on June 12, 2012. Transportes del Valle has remained within the border States."
"Transportes Olympic is a one–truck and two–driver carrier from Nuevo Leon, and received pilot program authority in October 2011. The carrier is the only pilot program participant traveling beyond the border States at this time, and has made trips through Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee."
In a July 26 response to the audit's findings, Transportation Department officials agreed to change some of their practices, while saying that the department’s "rigorous screening and monitoring program has resulted in over 52,000 miles of travel by participating carriers without a crash and 83 inspections during which only one vehicle and no drivers were placed out-of-service."
"During the course of its work, OIG noted a single instance where an FMCSA auditor made an error in the process used to verify the accuracy of the driver list submitted for random drug tests. While this error should not have occurred, it is not indicative of a systemic failure of process, but as an isolated error noted in an observation of a single test."
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