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Chameleon carriers attracting law enforcement attention

Each of the 50 states and the federal government have enacted strict regulations intended to ensure that over-the-road trucks operating on their highways are following up-to-date safety practices. If a trucking company is found to have violated one or more of the regulations, the regulatory jurisdiction can impose severe penalties, including the suspension of the right to operate large trucks in the jurisdiction’s highways. Truckers have discovered a method of avoiding the economic impact of such sanctions: the use of a “chameleon carrier.”

What is a “chameleon carrier”

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”), they have operated in interstate and local commerce for decades. If a registered carrier operating in interstate commerce is found to have violated a safety regulation—say, employing drivers with little or no formal training—the state or the federal government may issue an order forbidding the trucking company from engaging in further operations. The company who suffered the sanction can employ a relatively simple scam to avoid the effect of such an order: operate under an alias.

The trucker merely changes the registration numbers on the trucks and perhaps paints a new name on the cabs. After making these changes, the trucking company continues to operate, perhaps using the same equipment and the same drivers who were used by the sanctioned company but under new names. In essence, a chameleon carrier reincarnates himself so that it can continue operating without regard to penalties imposed on its alter ego.

The risks of chameleon carriers

Because the owners of chameleon carriers are less likely to follow safety regulations, including the hiring of qualified drivers, they pose a significant safety risk to other users of the nations’ highway systems. According to a report from the GAO, chameleon carriers are three times as likely as companies operating within the law to be involved in a serious crash.

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles recently obtained legislative authority to revoke or deny a motor carrier’s request for registration if its owner was either owned, operated or managed or controlled by a person that the Texas Department Public Safety had determined has an unsatisfactory rating under federal rules.

Seeking a lawyer’s expertise

If a person is injured in an accident caused by the negligence of an unqualified driver working for a chameleon carrier, the carrier can be held liable for those injuries based on its failure to follow applicable safety regulations. Anyone suffering injuries or losing a loved one in those injuries may wish to consult an experienced truck accident attorney for advice on seeking damages in court.