Accidents with city vehicles are still high, so Schenectady City Councilwoman Marion Porterfield proposed Monday that every driver be tested for drugs or alcohol after a crash.
City officials told her that they always test city employees after serious crashes in which the driver causes more than $5,000 in property damage or injures someone.
But Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said it would be “virtually impossible” to change the police and fire contract to require tests after every crash.
“I think that’s going to be an extremely hard sell,” he said. “There would have to be one huge tradeoff.”
Porterfield said she wanted the tests because the high accident rate among city employees is costing the city more in vehicle insurance.
“It was driving up the cost of our insurance,” she said. “Insurance rates went up.”
The council has just finished its 2014 budget, and council members are now looking at expenses that they hope to reduce for the 2015 budget. If the city’s accident rate goes down, it might spend less on insurance.
But Bennett said drug and alcohol testing would not effectively reduce crashes. He said he doesn’t think they’re caused by drugs or alcohol very often.
He noted that police respond to even very minor accidents involving city vehicles, particularly if it involves a police car.
If police see any signs of impairment, they take action just as they would in any other traffic stop, he said.
Police can order tests, ask the driver to take a Breathalyzer, or do field sobriety tests even if the accident is not serious enough to require drug and alcohol testing, Bennett said.
Employees can also be required to submit to testing if two supervisors believe the employee is drunk or on drugs, according to Bennett and Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen.
Olsen, who oversees the city’s truck drivers, said his supervisors have demanding testing “on occasion” after seeing suspicious behavior. “This has been the policy in the city for a number of years,” Olsen said.
Bennett suggested that the council look at the issue from a different angle.
Instead of assuming that the high accident rate is linked to drugs and alcohol, he said the council should analyze the accidents.
“Research the cause of these accidents,” he said. “You need to take a look at other avenues. When are these accidents happening? Particular times of day? Backing up or going forward? Where do we need to do remedial training?”
He also said he thought many of the accidents were due to circumstances outside the city employee’s control.
“That’s just life. It happens,” he said. “Most of it is not reckless” driving.