Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 5, 2013

License to drive — Drug testing plan merits discussion


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— A well-intended drug testing proposal by three Mercer County delegates merits further discussion and debate in Charleston.

Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, is the lead sponsor of House Bill 2528, which would require any person under the age of 18 to pass a drug test in order to earn their driver’s license. Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, and Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, are among the bills co-sponsors.

Ellington, a local doctor, says the primary purpose of the proposed legislation is to deter teens from starting drugs. In another words, it is an attempt to teach teens a critical life-changing lesson early in life.

 While there probably are a few moms and dads out there who don’t like the idea of their child having to undergo a drug test in order to receive a license to drive, we would hope those parents would at least be willing to think about the intended purpose of the legislation while also taking into consideration the region’s rampant drug-abuse problem.

“If you look at the numbers in behavioral medicine, about 5 percent of the 12 to 17 age group admitted to using illegal drugs,“ Ellington said last week. “In the 18 to 25 group, this jumps up to 25 percent. We have a big problem with prescription pills and drugs in the southern part of the state and drivers’ licenses are a big motivator in teens. We feel the peer pressure to get your driver’s license is bigger than pressure to do drugs. This may also get them to an age where they are older and more mature and can decide to stay away from drugs.”

Shott views the proposed legislation as an additional deterrent to starting a drug habit or drug usage at an early age. And Gearheart correctly adds that the longer you can keep teens off of drugs, the greater the chance that they will live a drug-free life as they advance through adulthood.

The legislation as currently proposed would provide for allowances if a prescribed medication appears on a drug test. The teen seeking his or her license could also bring a prescription or doctor’s note which would not disqualify them from getting their driver’s license — provided, of course, that they pass the actual exam and are able to successfully parallel park — among other challenges. Ellington says the test could be a simple saliva or urine test.

Everything Ellington, Gearheart and Shott are saying makes sense. Ellington says many parents he has spoken to like the idea. Of course whether the measure has any chance of becoming law, or making it to the full House floor, is another question. But we think it certainly merits further discussion and debate, and we would urge all lawmakers to give the proposed legislation meaningful consideration.

The Mountain State currently has a zero tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 18 who drive under the influence of alcohol. The West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles also reserves the right to deny a license to any individual who is identified as a habitual user of alcohol beverages or narcotic drugs.

Ellington’s measure could provide another tool in ensuring that young drivers are not impaired when behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.