When the Dept. of Transportation in March announced safety requirements for Mexican motor carriers operating in the United States, a remarkable thing happened. Nothing.

Usually, a rulemaking of such magnitude — almost six years in the making — would have ensured that the regular stakeholders would cry out their complaints, misgivings and grievances. Instead, the intended audience has been relatively subdued.

The reason for this is obvious: DOT kept the rules simple and fair. Mexican carriers and their drivers must adhere to the same regulations as those imposed upon U.S. and Canadian carriers involved in transborder commerce. That's it. Simple, fair and the right way to go. The fact that it took DOT so long to come up with this plan is something that policy makers will study for years.

For now, the U.S. public is assured that Mexican trucks will be at least as safe as U.S. trucks. U.S. carriers, concerned that Mexican carriers operating sub-par fleets would steal market share, are feeling more secure, and government officials concerned that unsafe Mexican trucks would be riding the highways have more confidence in the future.

Mexican carriers will be required to have a distinctive DOT number, undergo safety monitoring initially and during an 18-mo. provisional period. During this provisional period, and for 36 mo. after receiving permanent authority, Mexican vehicles operating beyond the border commercial zones into the U. S. must display a valid CVSA decal.

All Mexican trucks operating in the U.S. beyond the commercial zones must enter the country only at commercial border crossings and only when a certified motor carrier inspector is on duty.

Mexican carriers must have a drug and alcohol testing program, a system to comply with hours-of-service regulations and valid insurance with a U.S. registered insurance company. Many U.S. carriers see this last provision as the great leveler. “It's not easy for us to afford insurance,” says one carrier official. “It will be difficult for Mexican companies.”

U.S. carriers are also relieved that they will not have to compete domestically with Mexican carriers. NAFTA regulations prohibit Mexican truckers from hauling loads between U.S. cities. All loads must begin or terminate in Mexico, but enforcement will be difficult because the rules allow a Mexican carrier to pick up a load, say, in Mexico City, drop it in Los Angeles, drive to Chicago and pick up a load for Mexico City. The temptation to fill the L.A. to Chicago lane will be strong and only roadside inspections will discover the illegal ploy.

Other provisions call for safety inspectors to verify the validity of the license of each Mexican driver operating in the U.S. when they're hauling hazardous materials or undergoing a CVSA inspection; licenses must also be inspected for about 50% of the other Mexican longhaul drivers engaged in cross-border operations.

Finding enough inspectors will be tough. DOT hopes to have 274 inspectors, auditors and other field personnel in place by year's end. They only have 60 so far; finding additional qualified people willing to relocate to border towns won't be easy.

Equipping five of the ten busiest border crossings with weigh-in-motion scales was expected to be completed April 1. The remaining five will be outfitted within a year, and an additional five scales will be installed at other locations by December.

One nagging question is whether or not the current system of drayage carriers along the border will remain intact now that Mexican carriers are free to travel throughout the U.S. For the first time, these drayage carriers must successfully complete a safety audit and apply for Certificates of Registration. Although the drayage system is archaically inefficient, it is also familiar, and U.S. carriers have built their networks around it.

Martin Royas, director of crossborder operation for ATA, notes that while NAFTA may have fixed some trade issues, it has not solved problems with lengthy border delays.