U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced that multiple provisions will be included in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – including their amendment adopted last week – that would ensure the top safety concerns from the Schoharie crash are rectified.
Specifically, the senators said the bill will ensure limo safety by instituting the following measures:
- Establish a program to provide funding for states to impound unsafe vehicles;
- Mandate that the Department of Transportation (DOT) establish a mandatory annual inspection regime;
- Conduct formal research and rulemaking on limo side-impact protection, roof crush assistance, and airbag systems;
- Conduct formal research and rule making on how to evacuate limo passengers more easily and safely in emergency situations;
- Mandate limo operators conspicuously share their vehicle inspection history with prospective customers;
- Create a formal definition of a limousine in federal statute, making it easier to create safety standards for this type of vehicle.
Additionally, after facing Republican opposition in the senate, Schumer and Gillibrand continued to fight to include an amendment that would secure several vital safety regulations whose need was made apparent by the Schoharie accident. Schumer’s office spoke with the families almost daily over the past few weeks and the families reached out directly to each Senate Republican’s office lobbying for the amendment and pushing for its passage. Following Schumer’s direct intervention and personal conversation with Ranking Member Wicker, the amendment was adopted and Schumer spoke on the senate floor. The amendment requires:
1. 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. This amendment will require each new limousine to have lap and shoulder belts that meet minimum safety requirements for each designated seating position.
2. 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. This amendment will require each new limousine to meet safety requirements for seat strength and integrity.
3. Retrofit Assessment for Existing Limousines: This amendment 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.
4. 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 amendment requires limousine manufacturers altering used vehicles to certify that the limousine meets federal safety standards.
“Nearly three years after that tragic October 2018 afternoon that took the lives of 20 Upstate New Yorkers, I am proud to say that there are finally meaningful and lifesaving changes for limousine safety on the way. For almost three years, I’ve worked hand-in-hand with the families, crafting a package of limousine reforms vital to saving lives and making New York roads safer. When I spoke to the families this morning, the feeling of rejoice was palpable and
as I commended them for their work and explained how awestruck I was that in the worst moments of their lives, when it was much easier to retreat into the darkness, they shined a light for all others and worked with me to make monumental change to this industry,” said Senator Schumer. “As we continue to mourn the deaths of those taken from us far too young, we now can find comfort in their memories living on through the meaningful change they’ve made – and, most importantly, in the lives they’ve saved.”
“The horrific limousine accidents in Schoharie and on Long Island revealed gaping holes in the nation’s road safety rules that have taken the lives of far too many New Yorkers. I want to thank the families and advocates who helped make these changes possible so that no one ever has to endure the same tragedy from these preventable accidents,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I have been working diligently with Senator Schumer and our colleagues in Congress to close these dangerous loopholes in limo safety. This provision will directly address the lack of safety regulations in the limousine industry and hold limousine companies accountable to strict safety standards. While we cannot change the tragedies of the past, these reforms will prevent future tragedies and make our roads safer for all Americans.”
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.
Schumer and Gillibrand, along with Representatives Paul Tonko and Antonio Delgado, have made multiple efforts to pass federal limousine safety regulations in the past, first in October of 2019 and earlier this year in May, when they re-introduced 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.
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.