An independent analysis of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Cross-Border Project showed that Mexican carriers operating on U.S. highways had lower out-of-service rates than U.S.-domiciled trucks, but a larger sample of carriers would be necessary to make a statistically significant safety performance comparison.

While the Dept. of Transportation originally projected 100 carriers and 500 trucks would take part in the project, only 29 carriers operating about 100 trucks were granted long-haul operating authority (OP-1) during the first 12 months of the program. Because the carriers approved only represent about 4% of the carriers that applied, the sample size was too small to make statistical projections for all carriers who may seek long-haul operating authority in the future, the panel said.

According to the panel, there are 861 Mexican carriers already legally operating beyond the border commercial zone under grandfathered authority granted between 1982 and 1994. On average, 9% of project trucks were placed out-of-service, compared to 22% of commercial zone carriers and 24% of the grandfathered carriers. In comparison, 23% of U.S. carriers are placed out-of-service following inspection.

Between Sept. 7, 2007 and Sept. 6, 2008, FMCSA said there were over 12,000 truck crossings into the U.S. by participating carriers, although less than 15% went past the border commercial zone.

Over the course of the year, there were no crashes reported involving Mexican trucks participating in the project, with less than 1% of the 7,000 driver safety inspections and 8.7% of the 1,400 vehicle inspections resulting in out-of-service violations. Both rates are far lower than the rates of both grandfathered carriers and U.S.-domiciled carriers, the panel said, although it said a larger sample size is needed to make statistically meaningful comparisons between demonstration project carriers and applicant carriers.

The panel added that FMCSA found fewer violations when testing 11 critical safety regulations among the Mexican carriers that passed the PASA (Pre-Authority Safety Audit) than among U.S. carriers that passed new-entrant audits, with only 6% of Mexican carriers receiving at least one safety violation compared to 58% of U.S. carriers.

In addition, the panel noted that FMCSA properly checked each truck every time they crossed the border and had adequate site-specific plans for the commercial truck crossings. It added that states had been well-prepared by FMCSA to check the trucks, although more than 30 states said they had yet to encounter any.

To test English-language proficiency, FMCSA tested if Mexican drivers participating in the project could both read and speak English sufficiently to converse with inspectors and the general public, and whether they could understand the meaning of highway traffic signs and signals.

FMCSA also checked that the demonstration project carriers were properly insured, verifying that all 29 Mexican carriers obtained the required minimum of $750,000 in bodily injury and property damage liability insurance. When one of the carriers allowed its insurance coverage to lapse, FMCSA took immediate corrective action, the panel said.