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'Chameleon carriers': Death by big rig

| Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 8:57 p.m.

Difficulty pinning down the California trucking company involved in a fatal Nov. 24 crash on Interstate 70 in Washington County suggests federal authorities too long failed to put the brakes on sloppy practices that let hazardous trucks roll.

State police say the DC Trucking rig was speeding and had poor brakes when it crossed I-70's median, killing a Maryland mother and daughter. The driver is charged with homicide by vehicle. Authorities suspect DC Trucking is a “chameleon carrier” — one that, looking to avoid penalties or shed a bad reputation or record, shuts down, then resumes operations with a new name and federal ID number.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's DC Trucking probe is too little, too late for the victims and their loved ones, especially because a Government Accountability Office report warned in March of agency problems regarding “chameleons.”

It's been focusing on “chameleon” for-hire passenger carriers and household goods carriers, thinking they pose greater risks than freight carriers such as DC Trucking. Yet the GAO found freight carriers were 98 percent of the agency's new 2010 applicants — and 1,082 freight applicants had “chameleon attributes,” versus just 54 applicants of other sorts.

Foot-dragging on tighter freight-carrier vetting — a life-and-death issue — is intolerable, requiring an immediate fix. But unless federal officials who let hazards such as that DC Trucking truck roll are held accountable, too, more such fatal accidents are all too likely.

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