SCHUMER REVEALS: FED LOOPHOLE ENABLES THOUSANDS OF DANGEROUS “CHAMELEON CARRIER” TRUCKING COMPANIES TO HIDE IDENTITY & SKIRT AROUND SAFETY REGULATIONS – OVER 500 UPSTATE TRUCKING COMPANIES HAVE BEEN CITED FOR SAFETY VIOLATIONS & ALL COULD HIDE THEIR IDENTITY; SCHUMER CALLS FOR STRICTER TRACKING THAT WILL PREVENT THESE COMPANIES FROM BECOMING CHAMELEONS
Fed Trucking Regulators Currently Looking Into Ways To Crack Down on These “Chameleon Carriers,” But No Rules Are In Place Yet – Stronger Rules Could Help Cut Down on the Over 10,000 Trucking Accidents in NYS Each Year; Schumer Says Majority of Truck Companies & Drivers Are Safe, But We Must Remain Vigilant Against The Few Bad Apples Before They Spoil The Bunch
“Chameleon Carriers” Have Same Drivers, Same Trucks, Same Accident History As Prior Operators; Creating A New Name Should Not Be Enough To Get Back On The Road – Schumer Pushes Feds To Institute New Practice of Reviewing Individual Driver Safety Records To Help Root Out “Chameleon Carriers”
Schumer Says Any Trucking Company With Safety Violations Could Easily Become A Chameleon – In the Capital Region, 87 Trucking Companies Have Received Safety Warnings; In CNY, 60 Trucking Companies; In WNY, 70 Trucking Companies; In Rochester-Finger Lakes, 80 Trucking Companies; In the Hudson Valley, 135 Trucking Companies; In the North Country, 59 Trucking Companies; In the S. Tier, 61 Trucking Companies
Today, on a conference call with reporters, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer launched his push to eliminate a federal loophole that enables dangerous trucking companies who have been shut down or hit with safety violations, including over 500 in Upstate New York, to skirt around regulations and avoid federal monitoring by dissolving their trucking company and re-forming it under a new name. These trucking companies, known as “chameleon carriers,” have the exact same drivers and trucks as the previous company with the shoddy safety record, but they are able to re-emerge undetected, putting New York State residents at risk. Schumer explained that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that over 1,100 companies with “chameleon characteristics” applied for a permit to operate in 2010, and many slip through the cracks and get the permit they need despite their terrible safety record. Schumer said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is currently considering ways to better screen for chameleon carriers, and Schumer is urging FMCSA to include 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. Schumer said that the vast majority of trucking companies and drivers are safe, but that it is important to remain vigilant in keeping the dangerous drivers off the road.
“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.”
Schumer explained that every tractor trailer that operates across state lines on the highway must apply for a federal DOT number. For-hire carriers that sell their trucking services on the open market and passenger carriers also need to obtain operating authority from the FMCSA. The DOT reviews these companies during the permit process to make sure they are up to snuff and can operate across state lines. However, in the case where a company that is permitted does not live up to current safety standards, hires unqualified drivers, or is cited in a number of accidents, they may be warned and fined by the DOT. Repeat offenders may be forced to suspend operations entirely. However, Schumer explained, when some trucking companies are cited, rather than pay the fines or face the repercussions, they dissolve and reapply for permitting under a different name. This is what makes them “chameleon carriers.” “Chameleon carriers,” also referred to as “reincarnated” carriers, are motor companies that artificially shut down their business to skirt safety regulations following violations, citations, and even after having their ability to operate revoked from the FMCSA. Often times, these businesses shut down and then re-form their business under a new name, with the same management team, trucks, drivers, and safety issues.
Schumer said these “chameleon carriers” are able to resurrect their operations as a new legal entity and, therefore, fly under the radar as a means of avoiding regulations and penalties that fall under the oversight of the FMCSA. According to a 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the number of new motor carrier applicants to FMCSA with chameleon attributes has increased in recent years. Specifically, the GAO identified 759 in 2005 and 1,136 in 2010. The same report also found that the motor carriers with chameleon attributes were more likely to be involved in severe crashes than companies not suspected to be “chameleon carriers.” Schumer said that, while the vast majority of trucking companies and their drivers follow the law and prioritize safety, it is critical that a better system be developed when it comes to screening potential “chameleon carriers” and unsafe drivers who shouldn’t be on the roads. While most companies that receive violations and citations quickly take steps to improve their safety operations, some carriers are able to evade oversight by simply closing down and re-emerging with a new name.
Currently, the FMCSA is working to develop a screening system for applications submitted with information that matches a previous carrier that has been shut down or received a number of violations. Schumer said that the FMCSA is still developing the algorithm, and deciding on exactly which data points—like the name of the business and address of the business—to use in the final product. Therefore, Schumer is urging the agency to incorporate into its final screening algorithm a data point for driver history, so that 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. Currently, there is no cross-referencing of driver safety records being done when it comes to approving a new trucking company. This final product is expected to be released in October 2015.
Schumer noted that there are approximately 10,000 trucking accidents per year in New York State and that approximately 541 trucking companies in Upstate New York are currently on FMCSA’s radar for safety issues. Specifically, Schumer cited the number of trucking companies headquartered in each region that have either received at least one serious safety violation in the last year or have been identified by FMCSA as being at an increased safety risk relative to other similar companies. Schumer said that many of these companies end up taking safety precautions and addressing safety concerns, but that companies in this group are the most likely to become chameleons:
· 87 trucking companies based in the Capital Region received at least one safety warning from the federal Department of Transportation.
· 60 trucking companies based In Central New York received at least one safety warning from the federal Department of Transportation.
· 70 trucking companies based In Western New York received at least one safety warning from the federal Department of Transportation.
· 80 trucking companies based In the Rochester-Finger Lakes Regionreceived at least one safety warning from the federal Department of Transportation.
· 135 trucking companies based In the Hudson Valley received at least one safety warning from the federal Department of Transportation.
· 59 trucking companies based In the North Country received at least one safety warning from the federal Department of Transportation.
· 61 trucking companies based In the Southern Tier received at least one safety warning from the federal Department of Transportation.
Schumer pointed to several major tractor-trailer accidents along thoroughfares across Upstate New York as examples for the need to increase truck safety and eliminate “chameleon carriers” on New York State roads. In October in the Rochester area, a tractor trailer overturned on the Interstate 490 ramp and shut down the exit for several hours near Gates. In June 2014 in Ithaca, a tractor trailer lost control and careened into Simeon’s Bistro in the downtown commons area, killing one person and injuring five others. In the days following the accident, many questions surfaced concerning the legitimacy of the trucking company. Schumer also pointed to a well-known, highly-publicized case of a “chameleon carrier” causing a serious accident in Texas to underline his push for increased federal oversight for truckers and trucking companies that do not prioritize safety. Schumer said that in 2008 the driver of a Texas trucking company, called Forrest Rangeloff, struck and killed a professional truck driver stopped on the side of the road for a routine truck inspection. After receiving unsatisfactory ratings however, the company was still able to form two subsequent companies, called Range Transportation and Range-It Express, to avoid further legal penalties and federal regulators.
Additionally, according to the FMCSA, there are a number of motor carriers—including interstate trucking companies and passenger carriers, in addition to intrastate hazmat companies—in many of the states surrounding New York that have had one or more serious safety violations in the last 12 months or have been identified by FMCSA as being at an increased safety risk relative to other similar companies. Schumer said that this is an issue because many of these companies’ trucks travel over state lines into New York and are also at risk of causing fatal accidents or posing a serious risk to motorists and pedestrians. In Vermont, there are 93 of these companies; in Massachusetts, there are 621; in Connecticut, there are 318; in New Jersey, there are 1,520; in Pennsylvania, there are 1,481; and in Ohio there are 1,350.
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.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
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