The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has the primary task of protecting the safety of the travelling public by ensuring that trucking and bus companies operate in compliance with federal safety laws and regulations.
When companies are found in violation of these safety regulations, they can be sanctioned, and in extreme cases, and have their license to operate revoked and be placed out-of-service.
In recent years, a disturbing development has occurred, where carriers, such as bus or trucking companies, will lose their licenses because of safety violations. After going out of business, the carriers will emerge as "new" carriers, often with the same owners, operators, drivers and equipment.
These "chameleon carriers" are able to reapply for licensure undetected because the FMCSA is unable to cope with the volume of new applications it receives every year. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the FMCSA had 65,531 new applications filed during that year alone.
The risk of a severe commercial vehicle crash or likelihood of being assessed a fine by FMCSA for a safety violation by a chameleon carrier is three times that of other applicants.
While the FMCSA has been tasked with developing a Unified Registration System, which would permit better control of USDOT numbers and the ability to identify likely chameleon carriers, due to lack of funding and other priorities, it has been unable to complete the system in the 15 years since Congress mandated its development.
The GAO has recommended that the FMCSA develop a "data-driven, risk-based vetting methodology that incorporates matching and motive components for targeting carriers with chameleon attributes."
This is process would similar to that used by the GAO in creating its report, and would permit them to examine the 98 percent of carriers that are excluded from the present system. This would enable the FMCSA to better use its resources, and provide a higher level of protection for the public.
In the meantime, chameleon carriers continue to thwart safety regulations and ultimately cause accidents. If you have been involved in an accident involving a commercial carrier, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today to explore your legal options.