Today’s Los Angeles Times reports that the 35-year-old driver of a chartered bus that veered off a highway in the southern California mountains while carrying 26 teenage girls and four adults on a church outing, has admitted to having used cocaine earlier on the day of the accident. Officials investigating the accident have not announced whether the driver’s drug use caused the accident although the bus was determined to have been mechanically sound.
“We’re absolutely appalled this type of thing goes on despite all our best efforts,” said Louis B. Olsen, president and chief executive officer of ATE Management and Service Company which owns the charter company, Transit Contractors, involved in the accident. Transit Contractors tests all job applicants for drug use, and conducts periodic drug testing of employees. The company stated that it will review ways to improve its drug screening and education programs.
Federal requirements for mandatory drug testing of all commercial drivers appear to be inevitable. The Senate has already approved a drug testing proposal, and one is currently being considered in the House of Representatives. Incidents such as this bus accident help to hasten the approval process.
We support the need for drug-free drivers in all forms of commercial transportation, and feel it would be appropriate for the limousine industry to support this goal through its national and regional associations. In addition to endorsing drug testing, we feel it would be beneficial for the industry to provide leadership in the development of effective drug testing policies and programs.
Among the questions facing limousine operators in relation to drug testing are: Does an employer have a responsibility to assist an employee in attending a rehabilitation program? Should an employer consider rehiring an employee after they complete a rehabilitation program? Should an employee be handled differently if they admit their problem voluntarily rather than being caught by a drug test?
There are also liability-related questions. For example, in what cases should an employer be responsible for giving an employee a drug test? How closely must employers observe their chauffeurs and what constitutes “probable cause” for drug testing? We believe that clear answers to these questions, perhaps in the form of a resolution by the National Limousine Association, would help limousine operators operate more safely and with less exposure.
Drug testing is neither inexpensive nor convenient. Associations in other industries have established relatively low-cost programs for their members. In Connecticut, testing is available to members of a school transportation association for $45 per driver.
One transportation company that tests prospective drivers for drugs recently reported that 11 percent of its applicants tested positive for illegal drug use last year. With drugs representing such a safety problem, a drug-free chauffeur is as vital as any other service that a limousine company has to offer. It is time for limousine associations to meet the drug issue head on, and also to inform the traveling public that drug-free chauffeurs are a priority in this industry.