Most shippers and 3PL’s are practicing quite strict and thorough carrier vetting procedures nowadays. This is an absolute must in today’s freight world – implementing and following thorough processes for carrier screening is the only way to ensure you’re dispatching your or your customer’s freight into good hands.
However, checking carrier’s USDOT and screening their safety does not guarantee they are actually “clean”, even though they show good safety scores. Unfortunately, there is an unpleasant phenomenon in the trucking industry called “chameleon carriers”.
Basically, we are talking about carriers that have been put out of service at least once (and usually, way more often than that) due to safety issues. Often, they have been involved in deadly crashes and have been violating numerous safety regulations.
In an attempt to cover up their unfortunate history, these carriers shut down and reopen under a new name – and with a nice and clean record.
In most cases, new identity doesn’t necessarily mean a new approach. The trucking company reopens with the same staff, poorly maintained vehicles or the neglect of basic safety requirements which put them out of service in the first place. These carriers tend to cause accidents, which could have been prevented in the first place if they were kept out of service until they prove they are willing and ready to “redeem themselves”.
According to the GOA report in 2012, carriers with “chameleon attributes” were three times more likely to cause severe accidents, resulting in a serious injury or a fatality one of these three times.
FMCSA has officially recognized the problem in 2008, and they are trying to vet such carriers based on “chameleon attributes”. Unfortunately, it has proved to be problematic to identify and cut off all chameleon carriers altogether, but it’s a step in right direction.
Chameleon carriers are a negative phenomenon in the industry. Reducing the number of potentially unsafe trucks is critical for the safety of everyone on the roads. It’s too early to say that the problem has been eliminated, but necessary steps in the right direction certainly bring us closer to the end goal of safer roads.