Audit: DOT shortchanges schools by not collecting fines

Posted April 5, 2012 11:15 a.m. EDT
Updated April 5, 2012 6:58 p.m. EDT

— Public schools in North Carolina have lost at least $12 million in recent years because the state Department of Transportation hasn't collected fines on overweight trucks and lapsed insurance policies, according to an audit released Thursday.

Under state law, civil penalties assessed by the DOT for such violations go to local school districts.

State auditors said the DOT didn't review about $179 million in lapsed auto liability insurance policies dating to 1998. At least $7.3 million in fines were not collected.

Auditors couldn't determine whether any money was owed on the bulk of the policies because no one responded to the lapsed coverage notices issued by the state.

The auditors recommended that the agency tap into the Social Security database and other public records to determine if people are still driving after their insurance policies have lapsed and to take a more aggressive stance on collecting fines.

The DOT also failed to collect $4.8 million in fines assessed since 1997 on overweight trucks, according to the audit.

"I don't disagree with the findings in the audit," state Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mike Robertson said. "We've got to find a better way to do business."

Tracking the money is complex and involves several agencies – the DOT, DMV and the Department of Public Safety, he said.

The DMV tracks expired insurances and the DOT collects the fines, but the DMV's computer system is outdated, making it "very difficult" to track the records.

"I can't continuously blame it on the computer system, but it is a very old, hard-to-pull information from system," he said.

Plans are being made to upgrade the system.

In the meantime, agencies say they're looking at how this happened and how they can collect the money owed to them.

"DOT is reacting exactly like every taxpayer would want any agency to react," state Auditor Beth Wood said. "That is, Yes, we have a problem, and here's what we're going to do to fix it."

Those involved say a report will be sent to Secretary of Transportation by May 1, outlining plans to address the issues and collect the money.