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Georgia trucking companies can escape scrutiny

"The law today is not as strong as it needs to be," said Anne Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in reference to the ease with which unsafe carriers can reinvent themselves.

The Associated Press

7/24/2012

ATLANTA — Trucking companies in Georgia that run afoul of safety rules can simply shut down and reopen with a name change.

The barriers to starting a trucking company are low, according to a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that found problems with industry oversight. Carriers that stay within Georgia's boundaries face no minimum insurance requirements. Interstate trucking companies can be dispatching rigs for up to 18 months before getting a safety review, while those that don't cross state lines may never face one.

In one case, a truck for a Georgia firm run by Devasko Lewis was involved in an Alabama crash that killed seven people in 2008. Transportation officials put the company out of business and told Lewis not to start another. But three years later, Lewis registered again. Inspectors found 129 violations in five roadside inspections, prompting the U.S. Department of Transportation shut him down once more in 2011. He pleaded guilty in May to illegally operating a trucking firm and awaits sentencing.

Safety advocates say the process means operators who lack knowledge or experience to operate safely can get into the industry.

"It is one of the easiest businesses to get into and one of the most dangerous to the public," said Steve Owings, who formed the advocacy group Road Safe America with his wife. His 22-year-old son, Cullum, was killed by a truck.

State officials agree that it is easy to get on the road.

"There's very little entry requirements," said Capt. Bruce Bugg, a region commander for state Department of Public Safety. Georgia was among a handful of state singled out in a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in May that addressed so-called "chameleon carriers" — trucking companies that dodge sanction by shutting down and reforming under a new name.

"The law today is not as strong as it needs to be," said Anne Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Trucking industry officials say more oversight does not necessarily lead to safer conditions.

"It's a false argument to say that the regulations need to be more strict," said Gary Petty, president of the National Private Truck Council. He said he deregulation promotes competition and efficiency and called the industry safer.

The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at editor@thetrucker.com.

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