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Taxis line up at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. A state law taking effect this week will require drug testing for drivers when hired or engaged as contractors and each year after that. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Andrew Knochel)

PHOENIX -- Since he began driving a taxi here 17 years ago, Shah Muhsin said firms employing him as a contractor have required him to get drug tests.

That's why he supports a state law taking effect Friday requiring all taxi and limousine drivers to be drug- tested when hired or engaged as contractors and to be tested every year after that.

"It's better to be safe. It's really important," Muhsin said as he waited for a fare at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

Shawn Marquez, director of compliance programs at the Department of Weights and Measures, which pressed for the law, said the change enhances public safety.

"It brings in accountability that we didn't have before," he said.

Marquez said his department is responsible for regulating between 14,000 and 17,000 taxi, limousine and livery drivers around the state, ensuring that they have driver's licenses, commercial insurance and vehicle maintenance records.

Craig Hughes, founder and CEO of Total Transit, parent company of Discount Cab, said the public expects oversight of taxi service.

"Because of the nature of the cab business in Arizona -- compared to a lot of other places, we're deregulated -- some of those safeguards weren't in place," he said. "This helps fill in some of that void."

Hughes said Total Transit voluntarily conducted nearly 3,000 drug tests in 2012 at a cost of more than $142,000. It has been drug-testing drivers since 2008, according to a spokeswoman.

Hughes said his company's drug-free policy has helped improve the quality of applicants.

"The more we do it, the less and less we have anybody that comes up dirty," he said. "Everybody knows they're gonna get tested. To me, it's really helped our workforce."

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Arizona opposed the measure. Anjali Abraham, public policy director, said that the ACLU of Arizona has found in the past that such laws are ineffective, invade employees' privacy and lack a process to appeal false positives.

"We're generally concerned by drug-testing laws," Abraham said. "They don't solve the existing problem; they just add to the problem at significant expense."

Marquez, with Weights and Measures, estimated that a standard urinalysis test would cost between $25 and $55.

"The peace of mind, though, I don't really think you can put a price to," Marquez said. "Look at the city of Phoenix, their city bus drivers. They're all drug-tested. Imagine if they weren't -- the liability would be too great. It would be too great for the city, too great for the state. We deserve, as citizens here, more than that."

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