A federal loophole allows truck companies to evade safety regulations and disguise their identity. Senator Charles Schumer demands stricter tracking of trucking companies to prevent these “chameleon carriers”.
Senator Chuck Schumer has, commendably, addressed the serious issue of unsafe commercial trucks operating on our highways. These trucks, often cited for safety violations, are operated without fixing the safety issues by marginal operators by simply re-registering the vehicle under a new, usually corporate, name. The new company then can disingenuously claim no record of violation. Such facetious action regularly causes loss of life and serious injury, with the accompanying grief, sorrow, and pain, not to mention enormous economic loss.
I recognize that the fix I suggest only applies to safety violations relating to the equipment. Senator Schumer’s suggestion remains important because many violations affecting safety are “paper” violations that cover up unsafe practices, such as allowing insurance to lapse, failure to keep required records of maintenance, hours of service, personnel records, etc. Hiring unsafe drivers can be at least as deadly as putting unsafe trucks on the road, so my suggestions are in addition, not instead of, the need to track the individuals who hide behind an endless string of corporate entities while endangering the public.
In order to avoid shut down over safety violations and dangerous operations, other than that suggested by Senator Schumer, there is probably another equally important fix to the problem of trucking companies that change corporate identities as easily as chameleons change their camouflage.
- Refuse to register any commercial truck unless it files proof of insurance for a minimum of $1,000,000.
- Require a safety clearance/certificate for each commercial truck as a condition of receipt of a license or permit to operate as a commercial vehicle.
- Make it a felony to operate, or cause to be operated, a big rig commercial truck without the insurance and the safety clearance; the legislation needs to make it clear that the individuals responsible for avoiding the requirements are the ones primarily to be charged with the crime, not merely the operating company.
It is all well and good to have a system, as suggested by Senator Schumer, to cross-check the names of people who collapse one company only to start one with a new name in order to avoid safety enforcement. This could probably be easily done in this computer age. But, even such a system is easily avoided by enlisting the aid of straw-men owners, of which there is probably an endless supply for a modest fee. However, if the tractor that operates to pull a loaded 80,000-pound trailer cannot get a license to be on the road without the insurance and safety clearance on serious criminal penalties for violation, the probability of compliance will likely shoot up.
Moreover, “paper” violations need to be more strictly enforced, and violations must carry more significant penalties. It is not enough to shut down the corporation, as has been made clear. We need to place responsibility squarely on the individuals who have failed or refused to properly keep and maintain the required records. Further, we need criminal penalties for willful violations, and a “three strikes and you’re out” provision.
Legislation of this kind must include commercial bus companies, although the limits of liability insurance at about $10,000,000 would be necessary to adequately protect passengers and the public generally. The operation of so-called “ghost buses” injures and kills far too many every year, and cannot be ignored.
Lives are lost routinely in the United States because fly-by-night trucking and commercial bus companies and the people profiting from them, operating with unsafe equipment and/or drivers with limited or no insurance, can get away with it. Unsafe big rigs and buses cause mayhem on our highways. This can and must be, stopped. The traveling public deserves no less.