Audit: Dangerous drivers, questionable expenses at agency for disabled New Yorkers

Rick Karlin

Times Union

Jul 30, 2020

Dangerous drivers remained on the road, dubious purchases were made and vehicle recalls went without repair at the state agency that is in charge of supervising the transportation of disabled New Yorkers, according to a new analysis of records.

An audit by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office has found multiple problems and lapses in the vast client transportation system overseen by the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.

With responsibility for 140,000 New Yorkers with special needs, OPWDD has oversight for 650 service providers including the state of New York which in total operate hundreds of vans and other vehicles to take people back and forth on outings, doctor visits and other trips.

But a disturbing number of problems were found in the audit of records from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2019.

Among the issues: 11 of 71 drivers surveyed had multiple tickets as well as accidents on their records. One driver had four accidents in less than two years but was still on the job.

“Staff who are allowed to drive despite a history of dangerous driving behaviors may continue to jeopardize the safety of not only their passengers but the public as well,” auditors concluded.

They also found 219 vehicles with unresolved manufacturer recalls. Some of the recalls were for safety-related problems such as faulty anti-lock brake systems and seat belts.

Fifty three of those were dealt with after the audit’s completion, however.

“OPWDD’s lack of attention to drivers’ records and recall notices is putting state employees and their vulnerable clients at risk,” DiNapoli said of the audit.

“My auditors found cases where drivers ticketed with DWI and speeding were still allowed to chauffeur clients and the agency took too long to address vehicle recalls that could lead to disastrous consequences. I urge the office to immediately act on our recommendations as soon as possible.”

The system for transporting clients is also expensive, costing an estimated $104.2 million outside of New York City during the audit period.

Auditors found several questionable expenses, including $18,313 worth of fill-ups that exceeded the stated fuel capacity of vehicles in question and receipts for disallowed items such as car-wash services.

On Long Island, they found payments for $12,540 worth of fines for running red lights, which are supposed to be paid for by the driver, not the service provider.