Commercial trucks can pose significant dangers on the road due to their large size, lack of maneuverability, and inadequately vetted or trained drivers. As such, trucking companies that operate commercial vehicles must comply with safety regulations, and are issued ratings by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reflecting their level of compliance. Those that receive poor safety ratings may be assigned penalties or even shut down. However, some trucking companies are bypassing these consequences by exploiting a loophole in the system.
Chameleon carriers are trucking companies that shut down and then register under a new name and operate under a new U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) number in order to avoid the consequences of their subpar safety records or deadly crash history. These companies often retain the same employees with poor safety histories, and have not made any changes to improve their operations. They simply re-register with the DOT to avoid fines and potential shut-down.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) discussed chameleon carriers in its March 2012 report to Congress. The GAO reported that 18 percent of applicants with chameleon attributes were involved in severe wrecks, as compared to only six percent of applicants without chameleon attributes. The GAO defines a carrier with chameleon attributes as one that previously registered and had a motive for evading detection such as a history of safety violations.
The GAO found that between 2005 and 2010, applicants with chameleon attributes were three times more likely to be involved in a severe accident than new applicants. The GAO also reported that the number of chameleon attribute carriers increased from 759 in 2005 to 1,136 in 2010.
A fatal bus crash involving a chameleon carrier in 2008 prompted the FMCSA to implement a Vetting Program dedicated to identifying and denying chameleon carriers’ operating authority. In that crash, 17 people were fatally injured by a carrier that was ordered out of service by the FMCSA just two months prior. Other chameleon carriers have been held responsible for fatal accidents caused by drivers who were hired or retained despite their criminal history of drug use.
The Vetting Program now applies to passenger carriers, movers and freight carriers. It uses software to conduct an automatic risk-based assessment for applicants. The FMCSA hopes that the program will support the administration’s mission to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.
Many factors can contribute to truck accidents including negligent drivers, defective equipment, failure to abide by trucking regulations and improperly secured truck loads. Chameleon carriers put other drivers at risk by attempting to evade responsibility. The skilled Columbia truck accident lawyers at Chappell, Smith & Arden are dedicated to holding negligent parties such as chameleon carriers accountable and recovering the financial compensation that injured victims deserve. If you were injured in a truck accident, contact us online or call us at 803-929-3600 or toll-free at 800-531-9780 for a free consultation.
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