High time for drug tests

September 16, 1991|By Sun Herald, Gulfport, Miss.

COULD A congressional bill that has been gathering dust for more than a year have saved five lives that were snuffed out in a grinding New York subway crash last month?

Could all the mandatory drug testing in the world have made a difference? Could there be another way of safeguarding the lives of millions of people who use some form of public transportation each day?

Perhaps, perhaps and perhaps.

Mandatory federal drug and alcohol testing for airline, railroad and trucking employees has been in effect since 1990. Legislation to add mass transit workers to the existing rules was proposed early last year, but has been stalled. In the face of arguments that random drug testing is an invasion of an employee's right to privacy, we believe the privacy rights of a worker in a public transportation system are far outweighed by ++ the rights of passengers to travel in a vehicle piloted by a drug-free operator.

There are, of course, flaws in drug testing. Inaccurate readings are one problem. And random tests may reveal what the worker did yesterday, but cannot predict what he or she will do tomorrow. For this reason, we hope safety measures other than random drug testing are being explored.

For instance, since almost all of today's transport vehicles -- planes, trains, buses and trucks -- contain some form of computer electronics, why couldn't a computerized test, required to activate the engine of the vehicle, be part of the check list for each pilot or driver? The technology is available and the expense would not be enormous for a one-minute panel test that would measure response time and accuracy. A driver whose ability was impaired by drugs, alcohol or even illness wouldn't get the chance to endanger hundreds of innocent lives. And that, after all, is the whole idea.

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