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Understanding Chameleon Carriers

Yes, They Are Sneaky

11/9/2012 by Shazia Haq

On Tuesday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposed a final rule to commercial trucking companies, known as chameleon carriers.

What is a Chameleon Carrier?

"Reincarnated" carriers, also known as chameleons, are companies that artificially shut down their business and resurrect operations as a new legal entity.  Many companies fly under the radar this way to cleanse themselves of regulatory compliance and public safety penalties that fall under the FMCSA’s oversight.

The administration is proposing to crack down on these carriers with the hope of minimizing the number of unsafe carriers on the road.   

According to an FMCSA interview with The Trucker.com, the purpose of the warning is to “further strengthen the FMCSA’s ability to take unsafe trucks and buses off the road if the agency finds that a carrier purposefully employs officers with a history of blatant disregard for safety.”

The FMCSA further notes that if it suspects that a truck or bus company has demonstrated a pattern in avoiding regulatory compliance, the agency will suspend or revoke the company’s authority to operate.

By hiding under the façade of a new business operation, chameleon carriers are in an advantaged position to distance themselves from previous safety violations—and can easily avoid paying for them.  

The agency has completely shut down two chameleon carriers so far this year.

While the FMCSA proposal hasn’t been implemented to law just yet, it faces tough opposition. A 2010 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the FMCSA faces several constraints in pursuing enforcement actions against suspected carriers. As the GAO noted, “…it is unclear whether FMCSA should use a state or a federal legal standard to demonstrate that a carrier is a chameleon. Thus, evidence is gathered to meet both a state and federal legal standard, which can lead to differing enforcement actions across states and has increased the time necessary to pursue chameleon carrier cases.”

Other constraints faced by the administration include a laborious legal process, the inability to preclude carriers from registration numbers and relatively low fines proposed for this type of oversight. 

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