Stopping truckers from changing their colors

Safety ratings are used to help prevent truck accidents by preventing trucking companies with poor ratings from continuing operations. Trucking and bus companies with unsatisfactory records, however, try to escape their unsafe records by closing and then reopening under a new carrier name.

Known as "chameleon companies," these carriers hide their records and obtain a new USDOT number to remain in business. Most of these companies circumvented out-of-service orders from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration by creating a new name, obtaining new insurance and completing new paperwork.

These carriers were the cause of a disproportionate number of preventable accidents. Chameleon carriers were responsible for 217 fatalities and 3,561 injuries from 2005 to 2010, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Approximately 1.5 percent of new carrier applications had chameleon indications in 2005. This grew to 1.7 percent in 2010. The GAO issued a report in 2012 recommending that the FMCSA improve its efforts to identify carriers who were evading detection.

Federal and state regulators had limited power to stop this practice, however, until recently. The FMCSA conducted a vetting program among passenger and household goods carriers by performing electronic matching of applicant data with information on existing carriers. This applied only to bus companies and household carriers which were perceived as constituting the greatest threat to consumer protection and safety, but which represented only 2 percent of all new applicants in 2010.

The FMCSA and insurers now use data that locates the VINs of vehicles that were involved in accidents. Comparing this data helps determines whether an unsafe company is merely reconstituting itself with the same vehicles.

The FMCSA also issued two federal trucking regulations and cooperated with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to create a data-and-web based system to identify carriers. It compares every new carrier to older carriers for similar names and ownership, among other things. Suspect companies are then evaluated for previous bankruptcy, outstanding fines or safety violations, accident record or receiving an out-of-order order.

As the government begins to apply more measures against unsafe truck companies, other motorists face the risk of serious injury or death from a negligent or unsafe carrier. An attorney may be able to help victims of these accidents seek compensation.

Source: Freight Waves, "Data helping insurers, government crack down on chameleon trucking companies," Brian Straight, March 8, 2018

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