Pizza deliverymen and others who deliver food to private homes in the city would be required to take a safe driving course and be covered by commercial insurance under a bill approved this week by the D.C. Council.

The bill, which must be signed by the mayor, also would require all delivery vehicles, no matter where they are registered, to be inspected in the District every year.

Currently, automobiles operating in the District but registered in Maryland or Virginia are required to be inspected only under the laws of that state. In Maryland that means being inspected only once.

"I think it says that the vehicles must be safe . . . that businesses have to have insurance and be responsible," said Council member Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3).

The law would be the first of its kind in the Washington area.

Nathanson said he proposed the legislation after he received numerous complaints from Northwest residents about deliverymen racing through their neighborhoods.

Many food delivery businesses require drivers to use their own cars, but do not provide them with commercial insurance. In the event of an accident, most insurance companies will not cover privately insured passenger vehicles used for commercial purposes, Nathanson said.

Some council members opposed the legislation as anti-business, saying the city could not show that there is a significant safety problem caused by food delivery personnel. Police said no statistics are available on how many accidents every year involve delivery people in their own cars because those accidents often are listed as personal accidents.

"I think we've lost enough business in the District of Columbia by the legislative process," said Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), who initially opposed the bill, saying it would penalize firms that are bringing needed services and jobs to impoverished areas of the city.

Crawford voted in favor of the bill Tuesday.

Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) cast the lone vote against the measure.

In proposing the bill, Nathanson initially wanted a clause banning companies such as Domino's Pizza Inc. from advertising time guarantees on deliveries.

Nathanson said he thinks the guarantees encourage drivers to speed. The clause was deleted after several legislators voiced concern about its constitutionality.

"This 30-minute, $3 rebate element just pushes pressure on the driver to go fast. There's no getting around that," Nathanson said.

Officials at Domino's, the largest food delivery company in the Washington area, defended its safety record and said that during the millions of deliveries Domino's made in the area last year, drivers were involved in only 20 accidents, none of which resulted in serious injuries.

"We are supportive of {nearly} every aspect of the bill because we are for anything that helps ensure safety," said Frank O. Meeks, who owns 34 Domino's franchises in the area. But, "I don't see the need to have a vehicle reinspected in the District that has already been inspected in another area."

Domino's drivers are required to carry their own personal insurance, but also are covered by commercial insurance paid for by the company, Meeks said. They also must undergo six hours of safe driving training within their first 90 days on the job.

Some restaurant owners said they are concerned about the added costs. "It might affect our future," said George Chang, manager of the Blue Diamond Chinese restaurant on 18th Street NW, which offers delivery service. "If we increase our number of restaurants and we can't afford {more} cars and use a personal car, that might add to our cost."

Not surprisingly, leaders of People Against Dangerous Deliveries, a national advocacy group formed in November after the death of a 17-year-old Indiana youth killed in a car accident while he was making a pizza delivery, applauded the bill and called it a "a good first step." But they also said they hoped future legislation would address time guarantees on deliveries.

The safe driver course must be approved by the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles. Employers would have to pay the tuition.