April 05, 2018
Chameleon carriers are trucking companies with a history of safety violations that change their names to continue to do business with impunity. These companies are responsible for three times more trucking accidents than those conducting business honestly.
How Chameleon Carriers Work
Chameleon carriers hide their safety violations, including fatal crashes, by closing the business under which the violations occurred and opening again under a new name and a United States Department of Transportation (DOT) number. Thus, their safety record is hidden from the public, and they continue operating.
The typical chameleon carrier is a small trucking company. When it reappears as a new company, only the name is different. The new company employs the same workers and uses the same trucks, which will have poor service records. Another factor that does not change is the dangerous driving behavior, as these small carriers usually push drivers to falsify their logbooks and violate federally-mandated rest periods. However, this helps to identify chameleon carriers, as their owners often remain the same even though the company name is different.
A Federal Push to Stop Chameleon Carriers
For many years, state and federal regulators could do little about chameleon carriers. However, that is now changing. In 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) put a program in place that screens operating authority applicants electronically via an algorithm that looks specifically for signs of chameleon carrier behavior. Since the program’s implementation, nearly 90,000 applicants were screened, with approximately 8,000 flagged as possible chameleon carriers. Although the exact number of flagged applications that fell under the chameleon label and were rejected was not released, federal officials deemed it substantial.
Not Just for Trucking Companies
Although these practices were prevalent in the trucking industry, they came to the public’s attention in 2008, after a bus in Sherman, Texas crashed and fatally injured 17 people. The bus company had been cited previously for many violations under another name and went the chameleon route. Just two months before that August 2008 crash, the bus company had been ordered out of service by the FMCSA. It took the company no time to re-register itself as a chameleon, with fatal results. It was not until 2014, however, that the FMCSA was permitted by Congress to suspend carriers operating as chameleons.
The FMCSA would like members of the public who know of a carrier operating as a chameleon to report their activities and location to the FMCSA office. Reporting them could save lives and prevent severe, life-altering injuries.
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