Train crash casts light on whether random drug tests are best way to ensure safety

Questions are being raised about the possible role of driver impairment in the Metro-North New York train derailment (“Engineer fatigue cited in train crash,” Page A8, Dec. 4). This raises anew the issue of whether so-called performance-based testing would be an improvement over random drug testing of employees, which does not detect current impairment. Performance testing usually involves a 90-second computerized test of hand-eye coordination and reaction time.

If we really cared about public safety, we would have employees in safety-sensitive jobs take performance-based tests before they begin their shift — for example, before taking a train out. This would do a better job of showing whether the employee is impaired or distracted for any reason, from lack of sleep, over-the-counter or other medication, alcohol, problems at home, or other causes.


Most employment-based drug testing detects only byproducts of drugs that may remain in the person’s system for many weeks and do not show whether the person is currently impaired. Unfortunately, companies that sell drug tests have persuaded too many employers to impose drug testing on employees, at considerable cost, without really helping to make us safe when we get on the train, bus, or plane.

Whitney A. Taylor

Director of public advocacy

American Civil Liberties Union

of Massachusetts


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