The state Department of Transportation is not adequately monitoring whether commercial carriers whose vehicles or drivers have been taken off the road because of violations are making needed repairs or corrections, potentially putting the public at risk, according to an audit by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
"Lax oversight of commercial carriers could be putting New York's motorists in jeopardy," DiNapoli said. "The Department of Transportation needs to do a better job making sure carriers comply with the law, and most especially those with poor safety records. The state needs to send a strong message that commercial carriers that flout the rules and put people at risk will be penalized." The DOT is responsible for administering state participation in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program. Roadside inspections of commercial vehicles are a primary part of the program. The inspections are performed by DOT inspectors and specially trained state and local police. Inspections regularly uncover violations serious enough to warrant immediately removing the vehicles from service until they are fixed. Carriers with poor safety histories may also be subject to more stringent DOT enforcement, including on-site compliance reviews or additional penalties. Federal and state regulations require motor carriers to return inspection reports and repair certifications to DOT within 15 days. DiNapoli's auditors, however, found that DOT does not monitor whether carriers that have been cited submit the required certifications on time indicating that violations have been repaired or corrected. As a result, 39 percent of the certifications for 90,368 out-of-service violations on vehicles and drivers during the audit period of Oct. 1, 2008, to June 17, 2013, were not submitted, leaving DOT with no assurance that the out-of-service violations have been corrected. DOT has no tracking system in place to monitor compliance with the 15-day requirement, or even whether these reports are received at all.
Examples of truck violations include faulty brakes, steering problems and cracked frame supports. Examples of drivers' violations included exceeding the amount of time driving without a mandated rest period, failing to have the proper medical certifications where required and keeping incomplete or inaccurate log books.
When carriers have a poor safety record, additional actions must be taken to improve compliance. For example, federal or state officials may visit the carrier to conduct a review or DOT may issue a formal Notice of Violation. When such a notice is issued, the carrier is required to appear before an administrative law judge and may be subject to additional penalties. DiNapoli's auditors found that in roughly 60 percent of the cases of repeat out-of-service violations reviewed, DOT did not use such enhanced enforcement actions to ensure compliance with the law. Instead, violators in these instances typically received only a traffic citation.
DiNapoli recommended DOT:
Institute a comprehensive tracking system to monitor carrier compliance with the requirements for certification that vehicles have been repaired;
Develop strategies to improve carrier compliance, particularly for those with poor safety histories and out-of-service violations; and
Impose increasingly severe penalties, such as compliance reviews and formal violation notices, when carriers are found to have continued to operate out-of-service vehicles. DOT generally agreed with DiNapoli's recommendations and has indicated that steps are being taken to implement them. For a copy of the report, including DOT's response, visit: www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093014/12s13.pdf