Dallas city vehicle crashes cost taxpayers millions

A FOX 4 Investigation has uncovered that Dallas city vehicles driven by city employees were involved in 2,500 crashes over a period of 20 months.

That amounts to about four crashes a day and includes all city departments. Out of 2,500 crashes, the city found its own drivers at fault for 1,300 of them.

Many are repeat offenders. From January 2015 to August 2016, 134 Sanitation Department workers were involved in multiple crashes. Eighty-four Dallas Police Department employees were involved in multiple crashes.

These types of crashes are more than just dangerous, they are costing taxpayers millions.

Since 2014, the city has paid out more than $3.2 million in claims for crashes in which city employees were found to be at fault.

Claims paid out for city vehicle crashes
Source: City of Dallas

2014: $1,854,599.51
2015: $942,107.73
2016: $449,444.69

Over a two year period, 1,300 people in Dallas filed claims against the city for costly damage caused by city vehicles.

Beyond claims, city vehicle crashes can also lead to expensive lawsuits against the city.

Dallas attorney Louis Hakim sued the city in 2014 after a City of Dallas garbage truck crashed into his client’s vehicle at a stop sign at Pine Street and the U.S. 175 service road in Southern Dallas.

Hakim said his client and two passengers in the vehicle suffered injuries.

“[My client] had a closed head injury, a concussion, and then ultimately he needed surgery on his left shoulder,” Hakim said.

In January 2017, the city settled the lawsuit for $188,775.

Hakim questioned the garbage truck driver’s claim that brakes on the vehicle gave out.

“From our perspective, it was driver inattention,” Hakim said. “Maybe he was driving too fast for the conditions, wasn't able to come to a safe stop and had to jerk the wheel to the left.

The driver of the vehicle claimed that there was some kind of mechanical defect and the brakes on the vehicle magically, all of a sudden just went out.  Either way it's a city responsibility."

A city spokesperson did not respond to FOX 4’s question about whether the brakes on that truck did in fact fail, nor has the city provided any records yet to show the truck was repaired.

"Whether it was his driver error or whether the city gave him a defective vehicle to drive around on the city street, either way, it's not a good situation," Hakim said.

FOX 4 also found that the city may not be doing enough to discipline drivers who are found to be at fault in crashes.

The city does have a point system to keep track of all employee crashes. Points are assigned to drivers depending on whether the driver is at fault and the severity of the crash.

For example, if the city decides a crash is not an employee’s fault, the employee does not receive any points.

An employee at fault in a minor crash is supposed to be given one or two points.

An employee at fault in a major crash causing serious bodily injury can receive up to four points.

Not at Fault: 0 Points
At Fault/Minor: 1-2 Points
At Fault/Major: 4 Points

However, FOX 4 has learned that points only count for two years, meaning points disappear from an employee’s point record on a rolling basis.

To face termination, an employee would have to have to be at fault in as many as nine minor crashes or three major crashes in a two-year period.

In the case of the Pine Street crash involving Hakim’s client and the trash truck, the driver did not receive any points on his record, even though the city lists “Turned when unsafe” as a contributing factor.

"When [the city truck driver] wasn't assessed points for this crash…it's almost as if this crash didn't exist on his record at all,” Hakim said.

However, the driver’s record does include four more crashes after the Pine Street crash.

The city found its driver at fault for one of the four additional crashes and he is still employed and driving for the city.

“The city basically buries their head in the sand, doesn't discipline you for it, gives you the keys back,” Hakim said.

FOX 4 shared its findings with city council member Philip Kingston, who is the vice chair of the city’s Budget, Finance & Audit Committee.

Kingston was so surprised that he didn’t think the numbers were right.

“That sounds incredibly shocking to me,” Kingston said. “In fact, I’ve asked city staff to verify that those are the right numbers, because it just seems impossible."

But the city’s own data provided to FOX 4 showed that there were 24 city employees who were determined to be at fault for three crashes each in less than two years. Four employees had five or more at-fault collisions.

“We need to determine if we've got the right people in the right jobs,” Kingston said. “If we have people who just can't drive who are being asked to drive, that's a problem."

Kingston and his fellow council member Jennifer Gates, who chairs the Budget, Finance & Audit Committee, both told FOX 4 they are looking into the high number of repeat crashes to see if the city needs to change its policies.

Kingston said he plans to bring up the issue at an upcoming committee meeting.

Follow-up story: City employee crashes strain Dallas police resources

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