What Are Chameleon Carriers?

There is a term well-known in the trucking industry and among those who deal with the effects of trucking accidents: chameleon carrier. However, the term is not one commonly known by those not familiar with the trucking industry. Essentially, a chameleon carrier is a trucking company that has shut down their business artificially, then reopens under a new name and legal identity. By doing this, these companies receive a new U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) number, effectively resetting their safety record and avoiding responsibility for their previous violations.

Chameleon carriers pose a significant safety problem to the public. Trucks operated by these companies are three times more likely to be in a crash involving serious injury or fatality, compared with other new applicant carriers. This is not all that surprising, considering that these companies are generally trying to get a new start because they have had regulatory and safety issues in the past. Instead of paying the fines and making the required changes for violating Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations, the company owner shuts down the company, then reopens the same operation under a different name and USDOT ID. But they are still operating the same trucks—many of which have serious safety violations—with the same drivers, many of whom have already caused serious accidents and should not be behind the wheel.

How Pervasive is the Problem?

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that in 2010, there were 1,136 new applicants suspected to be chameleon carriers. That is up from 759 in 2005. Moreover, chameleon carriers were responsible for 3,561 injuries and 217 deaths from 2005 to 2010.

Take one Lansing, Michigan company for example. Specialized Solutions has 37 trucks and 21 drivers, and in 2016 it covered 3.8 million miles. But the DOT has cited Specialized Solutions with enough citations to earn it an “unsatisfactory” rating. These violations include falsifying log books, failing to keep minimum records of inspection and vehicle maintenance, and using a driver before receiving negative drug test results.

Moreover, an investigation revealed that the company’s owner had previously operated the trucking company Azda Logistics. And that company appears to have been a chameleon carrier for at least four other companies, three of which were put out of service.

Until recently, regulators including the FMCSA have not been very effective at cracking down on these trucking companies. Fortunately, changes are being made to combat the problem. Last year, the GAO released a study on the subject, urging the FMCSA to revise their process for judging new applicants.

Cracking Down on Chameleon Carriers

The FMCSA has begun using a software that uses an algorithm to determine the likelihood that an applicant might be a chameleon carrier. The program, known as Application Review and Chameleon Investigation (ARCHI), compares each new carrier to older carriers. It searches for similarities in name, ownership and other criteria, to see if it too closely resembles a previously existing trucking company. From there, the suspicious companies are further vetted to determine whether they might be chameleon carriers. The program looks for things such as whether the older company declared bankruptcy, had outstanding fines, or was involved in a serious crash.

Using this data, the FMCSA can more easily identify these dangerous companies and shut them down. Insurers are also making use of the data, which allows them to determine whether a new carrier is operating illegally or poses a significant safety risk on the road.

This is particularly good news for trucking companies that are safe, legitimate, and compliant with regulations. Chameleon carriers are statistically more dangerous on the roads, and their unsafe operations can impact overall insurance premiums for all trucking companies.

There is still more to be done to ensure these unsafe trucking companies do not get a free pass to disregard their violations and continue their unsafe practices. Hopefully the new technology being used by the FMCSA will help bring down the unsettlingly high number of chameleon carriers operating on U.S. roadways.

“Trucking companies who game the system put everyone on the road at risk. These carriers must not be permitted to get away with this tactic any longer,” said Attorney Walter Clark, founder of Walter Clark Legal Group.

Indio Accident Attorney

Our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout the California Low Desert and High Desert communities for over 30 years. With a 95% success rate, the California personal injury attorneys at Walter Clark Legal Group will fight to hold those responsible for your loss accountable and win compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you have been injured in a truck accident and want to discuss your legal options, contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We have offices in Indio, Rancho Mirage, Victorville, and Yucca Valley and represent clients through the entire California Low Desert and High Desert communities.

DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.

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