Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Odds in favor of Mexican drug cartels

One of the biggest buzzwords in business today is “efficiency.” Everybody wants to get things done faster with less work.

The U.S. Border and Customs Patrol program on the Mexican border is no exception. A recent Associated Press article called into question the program’s effectiveness on security.

Years ago, the agency launched its C-TPAT program – Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. The premise was to speed border crossings for companies who shared their security programs and established a record of trust with the Border Patrol.

The upside for the companies was fewer delays at the border. The program was lauded as a huge success by some of the participating companies.

Take for example this ringing endorsement by Confab Laboratories Inc.

“Our transporters, which are all C-TPAT accredited, can use at the U.S. border the ‘FAST Lane’ which minimizes the time to cross the border. Only two of our transporters were inspected since our accreditation in November 2007.”

Wow, only twice?

According to Customs’ own numbers, the program has indicated from its inception that C-TPAT importers are “four to six times less likely to incur a security or compliance examination.”

The flip side, according to the Border Patrol, is that non-trusted companies would have their shipments inspected more often.

It doesn’t take high level math, or even a “Jimmy the Greek” level oddsmaker, to figure this one out. If you’re the Mexican drug cartel, you’re going to put your money – and dope – on those C-TPAT shipments.

Leaning on some poor dock worker at a preferred carrier’s shipping operation could land massive amounts of illegal drugs on a trailer that’s going to sail through the border in less than 20 seconds by some estimations.

We won’t even go there on accusations of corruption at the border. That concern has been documented and beat around in publications, on news stations and even in Congress.

Streamlining the border has obvious unintended consequences. The illegal criminal element will always circumvent the law and programs designed with good intentions.

The C-TPAT program is an obvious example of that. It’s a system that, if the criminal element hasn’t already broken it, is in the process of breaking.

Before we start opening up any more lanes, or “trusting” any more Mexican motor carriers or shippers – like in a long-haul cross-border program with the U.S. – it’s time for some tough decisions on the border.

Even though some would like you to believe we have no choice but to grant access to freight from Mexico because of NAFTA. That’s just not true.

The U.S. is under no more obligation to open the border to Mexico and risk harm to our citizens, than good parents are obligated to let the troublemaker down the street into their home.

Sure, we’d like to play nice with Mexico, but with its out-of-control drug problems – it’s kind of like the next-door neighbor kid who brings pot in your house.

“We’d love to welcome you here. But, until you clean up your act, you’re just not allowed to come over.”

Simple, but sometimes solutions are.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It’s called an off switch

If more people knew where the off switch was on their cell phones and other personal devices, perhaps we wouldn’t be having this discussion about distracted driving.

That might be a bit of an exaggeration. Even without cell phones, driver distraction would still make for a worthy topic. Nonetheless, the phones and other communications devices are near and dear to us, and they are here to stay.

Let’s talk about some of the work being done to combat distracted driving.

You likely already know about the legislative efforts on Capitol Hill to assist or force states to enact new or tougher distracted-driving laws. If not, do some research and read up on Senate bills S1938 and S1536 and House bill HR3535. OOIDA supports the approach taken in S1938.

Public service campaigns in the form of TV ads, Internet videos and general media awareness are gaining traction. Sometimes, they take the extreme approach, but if it hits home with young drivers, the job is getting done.

Next up are the technology vendors, who are clamoring to bring technologies to market to reduce driver distractions.

A handful of vendors presented their products and concepts on Friday, Nov. 20, during a workshop held by the Federal Communications Commission.

One thing is certain (keeping in mind that technology shares blame in this mess): The competition in the technological arena is sure to be fierce.

Some technologies could be downloaded or used to disable or lock a driver’s phone while a vehicle is in motion. We already know about Bluetooth and others that allow hands-free.

OK. Here’s one that made me curious. If you were driving and your phone started ringing or alerting you to a text, the cell provider or an application could “answer” it for you and tell the person on the other end that you’re busy driving and will return the call or text later.

Exceptions would obviously be made so drivers can call 9-1-1 or navigate safely on a route.

Obviously, some kinks would need to be worked out including the issue of privacy.

I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all application out there yet that’s going to solve these problems outright. The off switch still sounds like a frontrunner to me.

Last but not least – and I like this one for any type of distraction –is the concept of driver education and training. Teach people what is safe behind the wheel and what is not, and this becomes a lot easier than trying to get spilled milk back into the glass.