ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A New York state agency that cares for the disabled racked up hundreds of traffic tickets, including running red lights and speeding through school zones, according to an audit released Monday.
The review found that the Office for the Protection of People with Disabilities does a poor job of monitoring the driving records of people who transport disabled people. The agency allowed seven staffers with suspended licenses to drive vehicles assigned to transport clients in New York City. Agency drivers also received tickets for speeding through school zones more than 270 times between 2015 and this year in the city. The agency’s drivers in New York City received 1,700 traffic and parking violations in the three years of records that were examined in the audit.
“Much more needs to be done to ensure the safety of the agency’s disabled clients,” said state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat, whose office completed the audit. “The disregard for safe driving is troubling, both for the clients and the general public.”
In its official response to the audit, the agency pledged to improve its monitoring of employee driving records. It took issue with some of the comptroller’s findings, noting that “for the most part,” the traffic and parking tickets given to its employees “had nothing to do with safety.”
All of the unpaid tickets identified in the audit have now been repaid, according to the agency.
“We are always working to enhance procedures and processes to further ensure the safety of the people we support,” according to an OPWDD statement sent to The Associated Press on Monday.
The audit found that six different drivers were each ticketed for speeding through school zones multiple times, including one driver who received five tickets in three months. Investigators also found 20 tickets for failing to stop for a red light, 16 for parking at fire hydrants, 8 expired inspection certificates or registration and 29 bus-lane violations.
The review, which looked only at the agency’s operations in New York City, found that the agency’s drivers faced 467 unpaid tickets worth $43,000 in unpaid fines, penalties and interest between April 1, 2015, and October 2017. The majority were for speeding through school zones, including 203 such incidents in Brooklyn alone.
Of 282 employees examined, 50 had their licenses suspended at least once, and seven continued to drive client transport vehicles without a valid license. Auditors could not determine whether the vehicles carried clients at the time they were in use.
Furthermore, between April 1, 2015, and Feb. 7, 2018, the agency paid $200,000 in fines, interest and penalties to settle traffic tickets. According to the audit, agency officials in Brooklyn “generally ignored the violations.”
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars was wasted on fines and late fees for drivers’ violations that could have been used to provide services for the agency’s disabled clients,” DiNapoli said.