For the first time ever, drivers of taxi cabs and limousines in Arizona will soon be subject to random drug testing.
Gov. Jan Brewer on Tuesday signed legislation which will require those who own or lease out taxis and other vehicle for hire to screen applicants for drugs at the time they are hired or allowed to lease one of the vehicles. That is on top of an existing requirement for a criminal background check.
And drivers also will be subject to random tests at least once a year.
The measure takes effect later this year.
Kevin Tyne, director of the Department of Weights and Measures, stressed this is not some new government program with the state going out and stopping drivers. Instead, he said it's designed to make the owners of these vehicles more responsible.
But he said it is up to them to decide what to do with that information: Nothing in the new law prohibits a company from hiring or refusing to fire a driver who tests positive. That mirrors the existing laws on background checks, with no prohibition against hiring certain felons.
Tyne said, though, this is a big step for Arizona.
"Nearly every other jurisdiction that regulates and oversees and licenses 'for hire' vehicles like taxis and liveries and limousines have some sort of a basic drug testing requirement,'' he said. "Arizona was noticeably absent in that regard.''
He said many people use taxis and limousines, both local residents and visitors.
"Patrons ought to have some basic sense that the driver has at least been drug tested,'' Tyne said.
The legislation is unrelated to the mishap Saturday where five people riding in a limousine on the San Mateo Bridge south of San Francisco were killed in a fire. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation and there has been no indication at this point that the driver, who also was burned, was in any way responsible.
California officials said it appears the vehicle, which was licensed for eight passengers, had one more than the permitted number. There appears to be no similar laws in Arizona governing how many passengers can be in any particular vehicle.
According to the governor's office, there are 6,449 "for hire'' vehicles in Arizona. But the number of drivers is closer to 13,000.