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Upstate’s October 2018 Limo Crash That Killed 20 Was Nation’s Deadliest Transpo Accident In Years & Long Island’s 2015 Crash That Killed 4 Young Women Was Just As Heartbreaking; With Both NTSB Reports Revealing Gaping Loopholes In Fed Safety Regulations, Schumer Acts

Schumer Announces Now-Finalized Legislative Plan To Overhaul Aftermarket Stretch Limos In Effort To Make The Roads Safer For Passengers, Drivers & Pedestrians

Schumer: This Plan Can Saves Lives & Honor The Memory Of NY Loved Ones Who Lost Theirs In Dangerous Limos

On the one-year to-the-day tragic anniversary of an upstate, NY stretch limo crash that took the lives of 20 people, and standing with the Long Island families of the tragic 2015 crash that killed 4 local women, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer detailed a now-finalized legislative plan to increase the safety of aftermarket stretch limousines across the country. Schumer and colleagues worked for months on the plan, and considered critical safety gaps now public in National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports. The broad plan Schumer is pushing would enact limo safety belt standards, seat system standards, and rigorous inspections disclosures. The plan would also demand safety standards for altering used limos and mandate any altered vehicle meets federal safety standards, something that does not occur now. Schumer stood with Long Island families pushing for changes as he made his case to enact these changes.

“A year to the day after the heartbreaking stretch limousine accident in upstate took the lives of 20 New Yorkers and more than four since the tragic Long Island crash, the need to improve the safety of dangerous stretch limos remains the same, and that is why we are here,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “With the first of NTSB’s safety recommendations now in-hand, we have a roadmap showing the exact type of federal rules and regulations we must get enacted, and we’re going to work to do just that. The loss of life and the depth of tragedy experienced from the Long Island tragedy, and last year’s upstate crash is overwhelming and must never be repeated. This plan will go a long ways toward helping us ensure these kinds of tragic crashes stop."

“One year ago our communities gathered to mourn an unspeakably tragic loss of life: 20 souls were taken in a preventable collision by a limousine that should never have been allowed on the road,” said Congressman Tonko. “For a year now we have carried these wounds, none more than the families who lost their loved ones. The night of our vigil, thousands of us standing by their sides in mourning, these families called on us to respond not just with our thoughts and prayers, but with clear, enforceable standards that close dangerous loopholes and make rider safety a priority. The devastating Schoharie limo crash was the deadliest of its kind, but it was not the first and if we fail to act it will not be the last. We owe these families a tremendous debt, and we will not stop pushing for the reforms they inspired and helped us advance until these bills are signed into law."

On October 6th, 2018, as reported by the New York State Police, a 2001 Ford Excursion limousine was traveling southwest on Route 30 and failed to stop at the Route 30A intersection in Schoharie, N.Y. The limo traveled across the intersection into the Apple Barrel County Store parking lot and struck a parked and unoccupied 2015 Toyota Highlander. The limo continued to travel into a small wooded ravine where it came to a rest. The accident tragically took the lives of all 18 people in the limousine and two pedestrians, 20 people in total. According to wide reports, this was America’s deadliest transport accident since 2009.

The federal officials said that this accident revealed an urgent need for new federal stretch limousine safety regulations. Limousines lack many of the modern safety features required on passenger vehicles due to the way they are constructed. Manufacturers test the safety features of a normal car and are required to certify that all existing safety regulations are met, but these features are often rendered useless when the car is converted into a limousine. Many limousines are not equipped with side airbags or required to provide seat belts, nor are passengers required to wear them. So, with the NTSB’s recommendations now in-hand, the federal representatives launched a push to pass three new pieces of legislation that would significantly improve the safety of stretch limousines for both passengers and other drivers on New York State roads.

In 2015, a collision between a pickup truck and a stretch limousine on the North Fork of Long Island killed four woman and injured others. According to the Suffolk Times, the limousine attempted to make a U-turn on Route 48 in Cutchogue, N.Y. when a Dodge Ram pickup truck collided with the limo. Following this tragic accident, Senator Schumer urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to gather data needed to upgrade safety standards on stretch limos and other aftermarket altered motor coaches to better protect passengers and make the vehicles more crash resistant. 

In September of 2015, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) heeded Schumer’s original investigatory call and agreed to investigate future limousine accidents as they occur on a case-by-case basis. Schumer followed this action with a demand for the NTSB to add much-needed limo safety standards to the agency’s “Most Wanted” list, which will help advance the critical reforms so many families are desperate to achieve. Schumer remains optimistic that the NTSB will work on this request.

As it relates to today’s finalized legislative plan, first, Schumer announced he will soon introduce the SAFE Limos Act of 2019. The legislation would require:

  • Safety Belt Standards for Limousines: Under current law, limousines with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 8,500 pounds are not required to have lap shoulder belts for every seating position. The SAFE Limos Act will require each new limousine to have lap and shoulder belts that meet minimum safety requirements for each designated seating position.
  • Seating System Standards for Limousines: Limousine manufacturers are not required to meet minimum safety standards for seats, their attachment assemblies, and their installation to minimize the possibility of seats failing during a crash.  The SAFE Limos Act will require each new limousine to meet safety requirements for seat strength and integrity.
  • Retrofit Assessment for Existing Limousines: The SAFE Limos Act will require the Secretary of Transportation to evaluate the feasibility of retrofitting existing limousines with lap and shoulder belts and seat systems that meet minimum safety requirements.
  • Safety Standards for Altering Used Vehicles into Limousines: The modern limousine market is made up of several independent manufacturers that purchase and modify new or used vehicles into limousines. Under current law, a limousine manufacturer that modifies a new vehicle into a limousine must certify that the altered vehicle still conforms to federal safety standards, such as side impact protections and roof crush resistance. Modifiers of used vehicles (i.e., vehicles that have been sold at least once, other than for resale), however, are not required to certify that their vehicles meet federal safety standards. The SAFE Limos Act requires limousine manufacturers altering used vehicles to certify that the limousine meets federal safety standards.
  • Limousine Compliance with Federal Safety Standards: To assist limousine manufacturers in complying with federal safety standards, some automakers have created programs detailing what manufacturing limousine alterers should meet to ensure their altered motor vehicle complies with federal safety standards. Unfortunately, not all limousine alterers adhere to these programs. The SAFE Limos Act directs the Secretary of Transportation to develop and issue guidelines, best practices, and recommendations to assist a limousine alterer in developing and administering a vehicle modifier plan. A limousine alterer is required to develop a vehicle modifier plan, subject to approval by the Secretary.
  • Limousine Crash Safety: Limousines are typically equipped with perimeter seating, in which the back of the seats lie against the interior of the passenger compartment. Such alternate seating arrangements can pose unique dangers to occupants. Further, side-impact protections are inconsistent across the limousine industry. The SAFE Limos Act directs NHTSA to conduct research into crashworthiness including side impact protection, roof crush resistance, and airbag system protections for all limousine occupants given alternative seating positions or interior configurations, including perimeter seating arrangements. NHTSA’s findings should inform vehicle modifier plans.
  • Limousine Evacuation: Rapid egress from a vehicle after a crash can make the difference between life and death. Pursuant to prior recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the SAFE Limos Act will direct NHTSA to conduct research and issue standards that can aid egress and regress in the event that one exit in the limousine’s passenger compartment is blocked. 
  • Limousine Inspection Disclosure: The SAFE Limos Act will require a limousine operator introducing a limousine into interstate commerce to disclose:
  1. Date of the most recent inspection of the limousine required under state or federal law;
  2. The results of the inspection; and
  3. Any corrective action taken by the limousine operator to ensure the limousine passes inspection. 
  • Event Data Recorders for Limousines: Event Data Recorders are devices installed in motor vehicles that collect valuable information about the nature of crashes to aid investigations. The SAFE Limos Act would require the use of Event Data Recorders for all new limousines.

Second, Schumer, working with other federal representatives, including Senator Gillibrand, and Representatives Tonko and Delgado, will introduce the Take Unsafe Limos Off the Road Act. The bill would create a new grant program to support states’ efforts to impound or immobilize vehicles that fail inspection for critical safety reasons. The New York State Assembly and Senate are still working on legislation that allows for the immobilization or impoundment of limousines where such vehicles have an out-of-service defect or a defect related to their horn. The act will incentivize states like New York to take strong actions to keep unsafe limos that fail inspection off the road. 

And lastly, Schumer noted how a Commercial Motor Vehicle is currently defined as a vehicle that is designed to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver. However, vehicles that are altered after manufacture to accommodate more than 15 passengers, such as many stretch limos, fall outside this definition. So, the plan he is pushing would also address this loophole via the End the Limo Loophole Act. The bill would ensure that limos comply with commercial motor vehicle safety regulations. The legislation would amend the definition of a Commercial Motor Vehicle to ensure that it covers all vehicles used to transport more than 15 people, so that critical federal safety rules, such as driver qualifications, apply regardless of the initial design. The bill also would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to reinstate state limo inspection requirements.

Schumer said that taken together, the three pieces of legislation would go a long ways towards ensuring the safety of all New Yorkers who travel in stretch limousines and of New York State’s roads and highways, and vowed to do everything possible to see them signed into law. The Senator continues his other efforts to push the NTSB to deliver more data and safety recommendations, as well.