Safety & Accident

Self-Reporting of Accidents Involving Pennsylvania Vehicles Challenged

March 11, 2010

HARRISBURG, PA - Self-reporting of accidents when using Pennsylvania state fleet vehicles is being called into question by some legislators and other observers, reports The Patriot-News.

The state Department of General Services, which oversees more than 9,600 vehicles in the state fleet, relies on employees telling their agencies about accidents and arrests in work-provided vehicles. The turnpike, which has 346 vehicles, has a similar self-reporting policy.

Former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commissioner Timothy Carson wrecked his turnpike-issued car twice while drunk, but he never told the commission about either incident for at least four years, until his resignation Feb. 8, according to a turnpike spokesman.

Norman Bristol-Colon, the executive director of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, filed a report with the state about a 2006 crash in his state-issued car, but his account of the mishap contradicted the police report.

However, Former Labor and Industry deputy secretary Allen Cwalina reported crashing his state car while drunk in November 2008 shortly after it happened, a department spokesman said. Former Department of Corrections chief counsel Michael Farnan reported his 2006 drunken-driving-related crash in his state car to Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard on the next business day, a department spokeswoman said. Both men subsequently resigned.

Still, some legislators and other observers are wondering if this reporting system requires backup.

"If an individual alone is the only one that is aware of what happened with the use of the state vehicle, there's something wrong that needs to be fixed," said Auditor General Jack Wagner, who released an audit last year calling for stricter oversight of state vehicles.

State Senator Mike Folmer has legislation pending in the Senate to enhance the accountability of the state fleet. He said he would support strengthening the reporting requirement for incidents about the misuse or abuse of publicly owned vehicles.

The turnpike and the governor's office of administration have policies requiring their employees to report to police serious crashes, such as ones resulting in injury, death or property damage.

The governor's office of administration also receives arrest reports of state employees - work-related and outside of work  through the Justice Network, an Internet-based resource that provides authorized users access to public safety and criminal justice information, Myslewicz said.

It also has a policy encouraging state police to report to General Services when they see state vehicles which often have distinguishable license plates in operation outside normal work hours. But Myslewicz said his department has received no such reports from state police.

State police spokesman Jack Lewis said his agency has no policy encouraging troopers to make these reports.

Going forward, Myslewicz said General Services plans to explore coordinating with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and possibly state police to use technology to review driver records for traffic violations that occur in a state vehicle.

Lewis said the state police do not have a policy requiring crashes involving state vehicles to be reported to the agency where the state employee works.

As for arrests, they are to be reported to the commissioner's office, but there is no requirement for the state police to notify the employee's agency, Lewis said. However, he said the state police's current practice is to notify the agency and the state inspector general's office.

Folmer said conflicting policies and practices must be resolved, according to The Patriot-News.

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