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Schoharie’s October 2018 Limo Accident Was Nation’s Deadliest Accident In Years; Reports Revealed Gaping Loopholes In Federal Safety Regulations 

Senators Re-Introduce Three Pieces Of Bipartisan Legislation To Boost Safety Of Aftermarket Stretch Limousines On NY Roads For Passengers, Drivers, & Pedestrians

Schumer, Gillibrand: Do Not Allow The Victims Of Schoharie’s Tragedy To Be Forgotten; Pass Meaningful Reforms Now

WASHINGTON, D. C. — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will re-introduce three pieces of legislation to increase the safety of stretch limousines for all of the Americans and New Yorkers who ride in them: the Safety, Accountability, and Federal Enforcement of Limos Act (SAFE Limos Act), the Take Unsafe Limos Off the Road Act, and the End the Limo Loophole Act. The senators explained that their bipartisan legislation would set a full slate of new federal stretch limousine safety rules and standards, help get unsafe vehicles off the road and close federal safety loopholes. The officials urged their colleagues in Congress to honor the memory of the heartbreaking limousine crash in Schoharie in October of 2018, which took the lives of 20 New Yorkers far too soon, by passing all three pieces of legislation as soon as possible.

“In the aftermath of that tragic October 2018 afternoon took the lives of 20 Upstate New Yorkers, I stood with the families and loved ones and joined in their mission close the fatal gaps in limo-safety that led to this tragedy,” said Senator Schumer. “This legislation would set a full suite of federal stretch limousine safety rules, from seat strength requirements to aftermarket alteration rules and so much more, close loopholes that bypass safety standards for commercial vehicles, and take unsafe vehicles that never should’ve been there in the first place off our roads. As Majority Leader, I will not rest until limo safety is prioritized, ensuring the lives lost in Schoharie are not in vain and our roads are forever safer.”

“Deadly limousine crashes in New York State have revealed gaping holes in the nation’s road safety rules and Congress must act to set adequate safety regulations that will save lives,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This limo safety legislation would enact comprehensive guidelines to improve safety in the limousine industry and hold companies accountable for unsafe limo modifications. I will keep pushing alongside my colleagues to finally pass this legislation that creates new safety standards for limousines based on recommendations from the NTSB and helps get dangerous vehicles off the road.”

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.

First, Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand announced the introduction of the SAFE Limos Act of 2021 to the Senate, which 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 with 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 develop and administer 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, Gillibrand, argued that while states are already supposed to act to ensure unsafe vehicles are off the road, more must be done to ensure that when vehicles fail inspection that states can step in to protect people. To address these shortcomings, the senators announced the introduction of the Take Unsafe Limos Off the Road Act to the Senate, and called on their colleagues to consider and pass it right away. 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 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 and Gillibrand highlighted that currently, a Commercial Motor Vehicle is defined as a vehicle that is designed to transport more than 16 passengers, including the driver. However, vehicles that are altered after manufacture to accommodate more than 9 passengers, such as many stretch limos, fall outside this definition. So, Gillibrand and Delgado introduced the End the Limo Loophole Act to both chambers of Congress, to 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 9 people, including the driver, so that critical federal safety rules, such as driver qualifications, apply to these vehicles. The bill also would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to finalize a rulemaking withdrawn by the Trump Administration to require states to implement inspection programs for passenger-carrying vehicles.

Senator Schumer has long fought and led the effort in the Senate to promote safety within the stretch limousine industry. In 2015, a collision between a pickup truck and a stretch limousine on the North Fork of Long Island killed four women 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 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 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.