The state Department of Transportation often failed to monitor whether commercial trucks and drivers fixed serious violations, such as failed brakes or steering problems, before they got back on the road, according to an audit released Wednesday by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

In 39 percent of 90,368 violations issued in a 4 1/2-year period, companies never submitted follow-up paperwork to the state, according to the audit. Federal and state regulations require trucking companies to return paperwork that certifies repairs to the state within 15 days.

Additionally, the state did not impose tougher penalties "when it found that carriers knowingly placed the public at risk by continuing to operate out-of-service vehicles prior to repairs," according to the audit. Violators got simple traffic citations in about 60 percent of the cases reviewed, the audit said.

"Lax oversight of commercial carriers could be putting New York's motorists in jeopardy," DiNapoli said in a statement. "The Department of Transportation needs to do a better job making sure carriers comply with the law."

There were 79 repeat violations in Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk during the audit period, from Oct. 1, 2008, to June 17, 2013, DiNapoli's office said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

In 2009, a Mack truck that had 28 brake and weight violations within a six-month period tipped over and crushed a 56-year-old Ridge woman in East Northport. The driver of the overloaded truck got 3 years' probation and the company, Jet Sanitation of Islandia, received a $5,000 fine. "Who's watching these companies when they go out every day? Nobody," said Christopher McGrath, a Garden City attorney for the family of Deborah Shavalier, the victim.

The state DOT said that it uses other methods to identify trucking companies with poor safety records, including state inspectors visiting carriers to verify corrected violations.

The department said it would start using its tracking system to help identify poorly performing carriers by April 1. It also will issue violations against repeat offenders.

Kendra Hems, president of the New York State Motor Truck Association, described the truck safety program in New York as robust. In many cases, she said, violations are fixed, even if the paperwork is never submitted to the state.