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NAFTA: Free Trade or More Trucking Accidents?

Concerns about trucking accidents have been reignited now that the United States has finally agreed to comply with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

It was 17 years ago when the agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico was signed by President Clinton. In spite of the agreement, which opened both U.S. borders to shipments of consumer goods, controversy about the Mexican trucking industry brought trade across our southernmost border to a near standstill from the very start. Access of Mexican shipping into all 50 states was scheduled to open up on Jan. 1, 2000, but was delayed by the U.S. federal government due to concerns over the safety of Mexican trucks and wage competition that could weaken the our trucking industry.

Almost two decades later, anti-NAFTA arguments are being rehashed by TEAMSTERS and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). Both groups claim Mexican trucks will never match the regulations set by the U.S. Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA); therefore, we should all be prepared for an increase in trucking accidents on U.S. highways.

In reality, the actual compliance of Mexican tractor-trailer trucks to U.S. safety regulations might surprise the naysayers. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), a nonprofit organization of safety and industry representatives from the United States, Canada and Mexico, has statistics that show Mexican trucks and truck drivers are safer than their neighbors to the north. The CVSA did audits of trucking companies in all three countries. They found the logbooks and records of 1 Canadian company and 3 Mexican companies to be noncompliant with FMCSA standards as opposed to 218 companies in the United States.

Opponents of NAFTA — well, the U.S. and Mexico portion of the agreement — also claim that drivers from Mexico are dangerous and unqualified to be on U.S. highways. Again, CVSA statistics from the study period are to the contrary. Of drivers cited for working while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, 43 were Canadian; 1,206 were American; and only 4 were Mexican.

Finally, the statistic that should calm the fears of every U.S. citizen concerned about NAFTA , is the summary of commercial vehicle crashes in each country during the study period: Total trucking accidents in the United States were 72,801; in Canada, 1,004; and in Mexico, 33. The cherry on top being that only eleven of those 33 accidents involved injuries and not one of them resulted in fatalities. During the same time period, Canada counted 19 fatal trucking accidents and the United States counted 1,910.

What’s that saying about cleaning the specks off of your own windshield before pointing out the speck on someone else’s windshield?

Here’s to free trade and competition for safety among U.S. trucking companies.