I will start by saying that “chameleon carriers” are very dangerous. After reading this statement one might ask the obvious question, “what is a chameleon carrier?” For the uniformed (and that’s most of our readers I suspect), a chameleon carrier is one that attempts to avoid consequences of safety violations by closing down and then reopening, or “re-incarnating” as a legally separate entity. These carriers can be dangerous. By definition, they have a history of unsafe practices and they prefer to compound the problem by using legal judo to hide rather than simply fix the way they do business. While a majority of freight companies go to great lengths to comply with government regulations and adhere to public safety laws, a small number of carriers simply close up shop and reopen with a new name to avoid government penalties and fines.

The U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that chameleon carriers are involved in up to 18 percent of severe crashes, nearly three times the rate of new applicants who are believe to be in compliance with the law.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is vetting carriers to find businesses evading regulated safety standards. Thanks to two rules, the agency has both a clear legal definition of chameleon carriers and the authority to identify them, consolidate their safety history and shut them down.

In 2011, a bus tour crash in Virginia killed four people and led to the shutdown of Sky Express by the FMSCA. The company reopened in a matter of days under the name 108 Tours and 108 Bus. Although FMSCA officials were quick to close the new operation, authorities and law makers are concerned that far too many chameleon carriers fall through the cracks.

After the 2011 Virginia incident, Senator Charles Schumer of New York announced an initiative to close the loopholes that facilitate the opening of chameleon carriers. In March of 2016, the Government Accountability Office released a report saying while the FMCSA had improved the vetting process, it could do more to strengthen the system by revising the methodology to factor in the lack of sufficient information from carrier inspections and to look beyond the reported violations of safety related regulation, which the GAO feels are reported too infrequently to accurately predict which carrier presents a crash risk. While the system is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction for insuring the safety of the public.

If you need more information on this subject, contact Mike Crow, a lawyer in our Personal Injury and Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Mike.Crow@beasleyallen.com.

Sources: Truckers.com and www.teletracmavman.com

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