Some labor unions predicted gloom and doom as the House and Senate considered whether to grant long-haul Mexican trucks access into the country, as required by NAFTA.

"Let's keep it closed, let's not get anybody killed in this country," Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said. "Let's make sure we have drivers who are trained. We're going to have tremendous accidents that are going to kill a lot of Americans."

The statistics that 4.5 million Mexican trucks were about to invade U.S. highways and Mexican trucks failed safety inspections 36 percent of the time were often brought up during the debate.

But those statistics deal with short-haul trucks, trucks that never get more than 20 miles from the Mexican border.

"Comparing their out-of-service rate or their failure rate to the failure rate of class-A trucks on American highways is worse than comparing apples to oranges. It's comparing apples to sweet potatoes," said John Simpson of the American Association of Exporters and Importers.

But the Teamsters president bristles at that suggestion.

"That's not true. It's very simple. It's not true," he said. "There's been no showing that the trucks are any different. No one has seen the trucks they're talking about."

But there are other statistics that bring into question whether Mexican trucks and drivers are less safe.

According to a 1999 Department of Transportation study, for every 100,000 U.S. trucks on the highway, there were just under nine fatalities. For every 100,000 trucks on the highway in Canada, there were roughly 28 fatalities. But for every 100,000 trucks on Mexican highways — there were just under five fatalities.

From 1980 to 1984, Mexican trucks had free access to U.S. roads. According to a soon-to-be-released study by economics professor John Jones, of Georgetown College in Kentucky, when Mexican truckers had essentially unregulated access to the U.S., fatal accidents did not significantly increase.

And U.S. long-haul truckers really don’t have much room to brag: They fail safety inspections about 25 percent of the time. And there is some evidence to suggest that the safety record for U.S. short-haul truckers is even worse.

Now the House and Senate have both passed a transportation bill including clauses that would either ban or severely restrict Mexican long-haul trucks, violating the NAFTA agreement. President Bush has threatened to veto the transportation bill.