Chameleon carriers are trucking companies that shut down to hide from penalties after multiple safety violations or accidents—and then re-open under a new name.
For more, see Chasing the Chameleon.
These carriers run some of the most dangerous trucks on the road: 18% of suspected chameleon carriers were in serious truck crashes, according to the GAO.
That’s three times as many crashes as other carriers.
How does this happen?
In the CNBC report, Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said that only about 2% of all new DOT applicants are checked to see if they’re chameleon carriers.
That’s pretty inspiring for trucking companies looking to avoid safety regulations and fines.
Closing the loophole
The FMCSA is updating the vetting methods to spot chameleon carriers when they apply for a new DOT number.
The new plan to catch chameleon carriers is based on an application algorithm. When a new trucking company applies for a DOT number, their address, phone number, and listed officers will be automatically checked against closed carriers who have been:
- Issued multiple fines;
- Involved in fatal crashes;
- Declared bankruptcy;
- Or declared unsafe by FMCSA.
This process is in beta testing now and scheduled to go into effect in 2015.
Even if it is not fully effective at catching chameleon carriers, it’s better than our current systems: waiting until they cause fatal crashes.
The term “chameleon” refers to one that is subject to quick or frequent change, especially in appearance.
Chameleons change in order to hide.
Hiding from safety
In the trucking industry, The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) use a DOT number to identify every company that operates semi-trucks.
Theses DOT numbers are important: they track drivers’ records, vehicle maintenance and accidents. It’s how we identify bad drivers and irresponsible trucking carriers, in an effort to make our public roads safer.
But irresponsible trucking companies have found a loophole. They register under a new name – and get a new DOT number – to skirt liability or penalties after numerous crashes or safety violations.
A company that registers under a new name is known as a “chameleon carrier”.
1,136 new applicants were suspected of being “chameleon carriers”, according to the Government Accountability Office’s most recent study.
While these “chameleon carriers” should be shut down, they must first be caught.
Sadly, they are almost always caught only after a serious injury or death has been caused by another fatal truck crash.
Just a few days prior to Tracy Morgan’s tragic accident, the U.S. Senate had moved to weaken federal hours-of-service rules aimed at preventing trucker fatigue.
Mr. Morgan was seriously injured, and another comedian was killed, after their vehicle was struck by a semi. The truck driver was charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. The criminal complaint states that the driver had operated the tractor-trailer truck “without having slept for a period in excess of 24 hours resulting in a motor vehicle accident”.
Prior to the crash, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to suspend the 2013 requirement that truck drivers rest for at least 34 consecutive hours between work-weeks.
How does this make our roads safer…?
This amendment, attached to the transportation bill, would actually make our highways less safe from fatigued truck drivers.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, fatigue is a leading factor in large truck crashes.
- Limits the maximum average work-week for truck drivers to 70 hours;
- Allows truck drivers who reach the maximum 70 hours of driving within a week to resume if they rest for 34 consecutive hours, including at least two nights when their body clock demands sleep the most – from 1-5 a.m., and;
- Requires truck drivers to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift.
These rules, passed just last year, were already insufficient to protect fatigued truck drivers and everyone around them on our highways.
It’s appalling and unacceptable that legislators are now already trying to pull back further from these rules, which have failed to protect the public using our highways.
The transportation bill with this change was stalled – a temporary bill to fund minimal highway repairs has been passed in it’s place – but this is not the end of the fight for trucking safety.
Many truck drivers operate on our highways after long hours behind the wheel without proper rest and sleep.
This fact came to the forefront when the popular comedian, Tracy Morgan, was seriously injured in a crash with an 18-wheel tractor-trailer.
Walmart employed the driver of the tractor-trailer. It was reported that he had been awake for more than 24 consecutive hours.
The truck driver failed to notice slow moving traffic ahead of him. His truck struck the vehicle that Tracy Morgan was riding in with such force that it killed one of the passengers, comedian James McNair, and seriously injured Mr. Morgan and others.
This tragic accident brings to light a problem that has caused too many injuries and deaths – namely, fatigued truck drivers operating huge tractor-trailers and endangering everyone on the road.
Trucking companies must be held accountable in providing safe truck drivers on our public highways.
The consequences of not doing so are far too high.
If you cause a crash and are not properly insured, you may expose your personal assets, including your home and any other real estate property to attack by the injured party and their legal representative. It is important when you meet with your insurance agent that you discuss the level of insurance that you need to protect yourself and your family. Don’t get caught with too little insurance.
Now, on the other hand, if you are injured by another party and that party does not have insurance or does not have adequate insurance, you may not receive just compensation unless you have Underinsured or Uninsured Motorist Coverage. Commonly called UM or UIM coverage, this coverage is in place to protect you when injured by a party who has no insurance or too little insurance. Again, it is important that you discuss with your insurance agent UM and UIM coverage.
These insurance issues should be discussed with your insurance agent on a periodic basis.
The summer months are upon us. Travel upon our highways will increase as families travel to visit relatives or go on vacations to campgrounds, historic sites or other fun locations. With summer highway travel safety is a major concern and must to the focus of both the driver, as well as, passengers. Don’t be distracted with cellular phone use. Texting and use of cellular phones while driving is a major cause of accidents and injuries. Just don’t use your cellular phone while operating a motor vehicle. Be alert to dangers on the highway, don’t speed unnecessarily and operate within the rules of the road.
I am happy to be recognized as one of Washington State’s top Trucking Accident Attorneys. I am on the National Board of the Association of Plaintiff Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America. This organization is made up of committed lawyers who have joined together to help eliminate unsafe and illegal interstate trucking practices. It is through this organization and others like it that we are making America’s highways a safer place for travelers.
I am also involved in local and national Claimant organizations that are dedicated to protecting the rights of victims of Trucking Accidents, as well as, injury and wrongful claims.
It is important to make our communities safer and to allow the folks that make up our communities to live their lives to the fullest.
Today with snow all over the roadways here in the Pacific Northwest, roadway travel was limited. Those that had to go out faced conditions of icy roads, continuous snow flakes or ice rain and side roads that were difficult to navigate.
Out there, crazy drivers went too fast, followed too close and tried to go up or down roadways that were simply in no condition for travel. One thing that I did observe was number truck drivers on the snowy roadways and I did not seen a single incident of unsafe driving. I saw truck drivers going slowly, maintaining a safe following distance and avoiding hills.
Unfortunately, there were several Truck crashes on the highways. For example, a semi-truck crashed through a guard rail near Olympia. Often, these crashes are due to Truck drivers traveling too fast for winter driving conditions.
The winter weather conditions will hopefully improve soon.
The Pacific Northwest is blanketed in snow which is expected to remain on the roadways for the next 36 hours. It is especially important to slow down as you drive on the roadways. Truck drivers need to pay particular attention to safety and defensive driving. Truck drivers need to slow down, leave enough room between their rigs and other drivers. They also need to get off the roadway if conditions become too hazardous. In fact, federal regulations require this. Winter conditions require complete driver attention. Earlier, as I was driving to work, I watched a truck driver operate his rig while talking on the cell phone. This distraction contributes to accidents. In fact, it is estimated that 5,500 people were killedin 2009 by distracted drivers. It is also estimated that over 450,000 were injured by distracted drivers. Truck drivers must avoid distractions, especially in winter conditions.
Federal Regulations require that no truck driver shall operate a vehicle while the driver’s ability is impaired or is likely to become impaired through fatigue. 49 CFR sec. 395.3. This means that a driver whose ability to safely operate his truck is impaired because he is tired or his ability is likely to become impaired because he is tired shall not operate the truck.
Many Truck Drivers suffer from Sleep Apnea, a condition that results in daytime sleepiness and fatigue. A Truck Driver who suffers from this condition is obviously a potential danger on our public roadways. The Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee is continuing its review of this condition, in order to determine if new screening rules should be adopted.
We have read, all too many times, about a driver, whether it be a Truck driver, or simply a motorist, having fallen asleep at the wheel causing a tragic crash. With big rigs operated by hired truck drivers it is critical that the Committee continue to address the issue of driver fatigue. In addition, Motor Carriers must continue to manage the issue of driver fatigue for the safety of our public roadways.