FOR A REVEALING TEST of public versus private interests--as well as of the legislative responsibility of every D.C. Council member-- watch today's recorded votes to uphold, or to repeal and destroy, the city's no-fault automobile insurance law. At stake is not only a good law, but also public safety in general and the protection and compensation of low- to middle-income auto accident victims in particular. Today's decision will determine, too, the financial muscle of a small group with a big stake in killing an important law--a law aimed at ending the unfairness and waste of fat legal fees in the auto insurance system.

Watch, too, the smokescreens likely from the lawyer-backed council members; they always talk about compulsory auto insurance as if it were something different and/or better than no-fault. That's bunk: any genuine no-fault law, including the one now on the books that is supposed to take effect in October, includes a requirement that all motorists be insured. And that, whether you are a driver, passenger or pedestrian in this city, is desperately long overdue; right now, there are an estimated 150,000 District car owners on the streets without insurance.

Another smokescreen used by no-fault opponents is a totally misleading claim to the effect that people are better off letting the lawyers in to litigate on behalf of "the right to sue." A better right, of course, is the right to quick and fair compensation--within 30 days if this no-fault law is left alone.

Perhaps some council members, lawyers and others in the city can afford to wait for lawsuits, settlements or court findings before they are compensated for work lost or other large expenses in auto accidents. But the poor can't wait for indefinite help way down the road.

Enough is enough; the issue has been studied forever, and the council has a law on the books that hasn't even had a chance to take effect. Instead, the lawyers' lobby and its council friends first delayed it and now are trying to kill it with a hollow substitute that will help no one but themselves. If good leadership and good conscience can prevail, members will put a stop to the city government's two-faced position on this issue--and keep no-fault on the books as it is--and should be.