New York Senator to FMCSA: Loophole Enables Chameleon Carriers to Hide Identity

Truck Crash Statistics

This week, New York Senator Charles Schumer penned a letter to the FMCSA, urging the agency to do more to crack down on chameleon carriers.

In a press release,  Senator Schumer says that a “federal loophole enables thousands of dangerous ‘chameleon carrier’ trucking companies to hide identity and skirt around safety regulations.”

This week, Senator Schumer had a conference call with reporters.  During the call, Schumer announced his ‘push’ to close the federal loophole that enables trucking companies that have been cited for numerous safety violations or shut down to reopen, using the same trucks and drivers, under a new name, essentially wiping the slate clean.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that over 1,100 carriers with “chameleon characteristics” applied for their operating authority in 2010, and that “many slipped through the cracks and get the permit they need despite their terrible safety record.”

Schumer recognized the FMCSA’s efforts to vet the carriers, but he’s calling on the FMCSA to screen individual drivers’ safety records as part of the screening process.

“Currently, individual driver information is not screened for ‘chameleon characteristics’ when a trucking company is registering, and Schumer said that making sure this information is tracked will help keep dangerous truck drivers off the road and prevent ‘chameleon carriers’  from forming,” the press release from Schumer’s office states.

“Most truck drivers and trucking companies are safe, but there are always a few bad apples that spoil the bunch. In particular, ‘chameleon carriers’ are able to skirt federal regulations and penalties by shutting down their business and re-emerging under a new name. But while these companies may have a new name, they still have the same management, trucks, drivers, and safety issues that caused them to receive violations and citations in the first place, and these bad apples pose a serious risk to motorists and pedestrians,” said Schumer. “There is a gap in the federal approval process for companies with poor track records – and it’s a gap so large you could drive a truck through it. That is why I am urging the FMCSA today to include individual driver and company history when screening new permits so we can cut down on the number of ‘chameleon carriers’ and increase traveler safety around New York State and the country.”

The FMCSA is currently working on a new screening system that is expected to be released in October 2015.  Schumer said the FMCSA is still developing the algorithm and trying to decide what data to examine.  He’s recommending the FMCSA incorporate driver history into the screening system.

“When a trucking company goes to apply for a permit, FMCSA will see, for example, that the company is employing the same two or three unsafe drivers and can quickly root out this chameleon carrier,” the press release states.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration appears below:

Dear Acting Administrator Darling:

I write to urge you to include information about individual drivers as data points in the algorithm that FMCSA is currently developing to identify chameleon carriers applying for operating authority. The vast majority of trucking companies and the drivers they employ follow the law and prioritize safety, but it is critical that any system to screen potential chameleon carriers also screens unsafe drivers who shouldn’t be on the roads.

“Chameleon carriers” are motor carriers that artificially shut down their business to skirt safety regulations, then re-form it under a new name. According to a 2012 GAO report, the number of new motor carrier applicants to FMCSA with chameleon attributes have increased in recent years—GAO identified 759 in 2005, and 1,136 in 2010. The same report also found the motor carriers with chameleon attributes were more likely to be involved in severe crashes than companies not suspected to be chameleon carriers.

I applaud FMCSA’s recent steps to improve its system for vetting motor carriers by implementing a data-driven methodology to identify suspected chameleon carriers, and expanding the system to include all interstate trucking companies. I understand that FMCSA is still developing the algorithm, and deciding on exactly which data points—like the name of the business, the address of the business, etc.—to use in the final product, expected to be released in October 2015. I urge you to include information about individual drivers in the final algorithm. Chameleon carriers often re-form with the same management, same dangerous vehicles, same unfit drivers, and same unsafe ways; FMCSA must do all that it can to ensure that truck drivers with a proven history of unsafe behavior are not able to get a new job at the same old unsafe company.

The majority of truck companies and drivers understand the importance of safety. Very few companies will ever become chameleon carriers, as most companies that receive violations quickly take steps to improve the safety of their operations. The small number of chameleon carriers, however, affect the reputation of the entire trucking industry, and pose risks on our roadways.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to working with you to ensure that unsafe chameleon carriers and drivers are not allowed back on our nation’s roads.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator