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Mexican truckers must speak English
Authorities begin enforcing a 1971 law as the U.S. opens its roadways
September 1, 2007
HARLINGEN — Interstate truck and bus drivers across America may find themselves pulled off the highway if state troopers or vehicle inspectors find they can’t speak English.
The requirement has been on the books for decades, but enforcement has begun before Mexican trucks are allowed in the U.S. interior as of Sept. 6.
“We have found people in violation of this for a number of years and we’re working feverishly to correct it,” said John Hill, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Since 1971, federal law has said that commercial drivers must read and speak English “sufficiently to understand highway traffic signs and signals and directions given in English and to respond to official inquiries.”
Hill said the language deficiency was found mostly in the commercial zone that varies from 25 miles to 75 miles north of the Mexican border.
Since inspectors there are bilingual and Mexican truckers are not allowed past that zone, it hasn’t been an issue.
But after more than a decade of legal wrangling, U.S. highways are opening up.
The North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 called for Mexican and U.S. trucks to travel freely throughout one another’s nations, but the provision was stalled by labor unions and environmental groups’ arguments that the trucks are unsafe.
A pilot program allowing a limited number of already approved Mexican trucks to pass the border zone was set to begin as early as today, but Hill said no trucks will pass beyond the border zone pending a final report by the inspector general. The program is now set to take effect Thursday.
Mexican truckers, meanwhile, said they were prepared to leave merchandise in Mexican warehouses if U.S. authorities insisted on fines for not knowing English in the border zone.
“We have been talking with U.S. authorities,” said Luis Moreno Sesma, president of Mexico’s national chamber of cargo haulers.
“The law says that the operators should know English to cross the border, but we have said they should have special consideration for the border guys,” he said.
The language requirement is part of a long checklist — including criminal background and drug and alcohol tests — that carriers must pass to go into the interior.
U.S. commercial drivers going into the Mexican interior, part of the reciprocal agreement, will have to speak Spanish.