Mexican truckers must know English
Associated Press
Sept. 1, 2007

By Lynn Brezosky


Tucson, Arizona | Published:

 "No comprendo" isn't going to cut it.

Interstate truck and bus drivers across America may be fined if their English skills are lacking.

The language requirement has been on the books for decades, but enforcement has been stepped up as officials prepare for Mexican trucks being 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 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 to 75 miles north of the international border. But since inspectors there are bilingual and Mexican truckers are not allowed past that zone, it has not 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 in both nations, but the provision was stalled by labor and environmental groups.

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 next week, though it could still be stopped by a Teamsters Union request before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California.

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.

Under the new enforcement regulations, drivers who can't speak English in the commercial zone may be ticketed and fined.

Those beyond the border zone will also be pulled off the road.

Richard Henderson, director of government affairs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, a nonprofit group representing federal and state highway inspectors and highway patrols, said the requirement was a "no-brainer."

"The bottom line is safety," Henderson said. "Obviously, if (the driver) can't speak English he's not going to know what some of the regulations are."