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City may start driver testing

Less than three weeks after a public works employee died in a dump truck accident, the city is preparing to implement a driving test to identify safety issues.

The skills exam would apply to all new public works employees, though acting City Manager Jim Farley said it may be a good idea to test existing workers as well.

Doing so would "enhance the level of training and raise the standard on level of safety," Farley said Tuesday.

The need for a test arose after the death of Dennis Miller on June 29. Miller, 59, was killed when his dump truck plunged into a pond near Three Sisters Springs as he was preparing a site for a fireworks display.

As Miller backed up, he apparently got too close to the pond and the truck tipped over, investigators said. An autopsy report concluded Miller, a 10-year city employee, drowned.

Farley stressed that the test in no way suggests that Miller was a poor driver. "I don't even want to use his name," he said.

Rather, a review of the public works department's safety standards showed employees are not evaluated as long as they hold and maintain licenses.

"In-house training isn't something new," Farley said of the idea. The review is not yet complete and more reforms could be forthcoming, he said.

Council member Joe Chrietzberg supports the idea and offered a sample driving evaluation checklist. The form rates workers, on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, on braking, lane centering, alertness, confidence, speed, and so on.

Most new employees are certified to use heavy equipment before they begin work and sothe city has deemed that sufficient, said Bill Davis, supervisor of facilities.

But there is no uniform standard because various companies certify drivers, Davis said, adding that an independent test could be useful. "You'll know if the person can drive."

Ronnie Rogers, steward of the union that represents most public works employees, said the test sounded redundant.

"All of us that drive equipment have commercial driver licenses," he said. "You have to take a written test and drive a vehicle and check it and inspect it. I don't know what more you can do."

The test probably would not apply to police officers, said Farley, who also is police chief. The police are trained by the state and do follow-up training, such as pursuit, he said.