What Are Chameleon Carriers and Why Are They Dangerous?

September 24, 2015 by Seth Sparks, @sethbsparks

While the majority of freight companies go to great lengths to comply with government regulations and adhere to public safety laws, a small number of carriers simply close up shop and reopen with a new name to avoid facing incurred penalties and paying fines. These businesses are known as chameleon carriers, and they present a special set of challenges to authorities seeking to limit their presence on public roads.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that chameleon carriers are involved in up to 18 percent of severe crashes, nearly three times the rate of new applicants who are believed to be in compliance with the law.

One highly publicized example of a chameleon carrier-related accident, reported by CNBC, involved the death of Kelly Linhart, a truck driver who was pulled over for a routine inspection and then struck by another driver, Daniel Clarey. Clarey later admitted in a deposition that he was under the influence of methamphetamines at the time.

Clarey later admitted in a deposition that he was under the influence of methamphetamines at the time.

Clarey had a prior record of methamphetamine and marijuana use, yet was employed by Forrest Rangeloff, a trucking company operator who had opened a new business after his previous operation failed to get a satisfactory rating. Rangeloff then filed for yet another company after Linhart’s death.

Chameleon carriers, also known as reincarnated carriers, are inherently a hazard to public safety because of their prior track records of violating regulations and safety laws. Even more concerning is the fact that government agencies have such difficulty filtering through the tens of thousands of applicants they receive each year to determine which ones are simply reopening an old business under a new name to avoid penalties.

In 2011, a bus tour crash in Carolina County, Virginia, killed four people and led to the shutdown of Sky Express by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. According to an investigative report by Raleigh, North Carolina’s WRAL-TV, the company had reopened in a matter of days under the name 108 Tours and 108 Bus. Although officials were quick to close the new operation, authorities and lawmakers are concerned that far too many chameleon carriers fall through the cracks.

Last year, Sen. Charles Schumer announced an initiative to close the loophole that facilitates the opening of chameleon carriers and urged the FMCSA to look at individual safety records when vetting the applicants. The screening process used by the FMCSA does not currently take individual drivers’ records into account, but a press release from Sen. Schumer’s office stated that they were hopeful such a system could be released in October 2015.

This March, the GAO released a report saying that while the FMCSA had improved its vetting process, it could do more to strengthen the system by revising their methodology to factor in the lack of sufficient information from carrier inspections and to look beyond reported violations of safety-related regulations, which the GAO feels are reported too infrequently to accurately predict which carriers present a crash risk. In other words, progress has been made but the vetting process by which the FMCSA weeds out chameleon carriers still has a long way to go.

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