Washington, DC – Following the tragic limousine accident that claimed the lives of twenty New Yorkers earlier this month, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to implement new federal safety regulations for stretch limousines. The October 6th crash in Schoharie County was the nation’s deadliest transportation accident in almost a decade and revealed an urgent need for new federal safety regulations for these vehicles. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is currently investigating the crash. The senators today urged NHTSA to quickly implement any safety recommendations produced by the NTSB and evaluate other regulatory changes to improve the safety of stretch limousines.
“The heartbreaking stretch limousine accident in Schoharie painfully reminded the federal authorities who create safety standards through rule-making and enforcement that – in terms of safety for passengers, drivers, and pedestrians – stretch limousines are woefully under-regulated; they fall into a gap between cars and buses, both of which have well-developed safety rules,” said Senator Schumer. “With the NTSB now investigating safety requirements for stretch limousines, today, I’m calling on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to stand ready to implement recommendations from the NTSB that will enhance safety. The loss of life experienced in the Schoharie crash is overwhelming and must not be repeated; I’ll work alongside Senators Gillibrand and Blumenthal, NTSB, and NHTSA to do all we can to ensure that it isn’t.”
“The limousine crash in Schoharie County made it painfully clear that there are tragic consequences when we don’t have adequate safety regulations. This was our nation’s worst transportation disaster in nearly a decade, and now the federal government has an urgent responsibility to make sure nothing like this ever happens again,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must respond to this crisis, immediately begin working to implement new safety rules for stretch limousines, and follow the recommendations from the NTSB investigation as soon as they are finished. My heart goes out to the families and friends of the twenty New Yorkers who lost their lives in this terrible accident, and I will do everything in my power to help keep our roads safer in the future.”
“The recent fatal accident involving a stretch limousine carrying 17 passengers in upstate New York may well have been prevented had the vehicle been subject to robust national safety standards. The state of Connecticut, which limits stretch limousines to nine passengers, could provide a good starting point for much-needed federal regulation. NHTSA must heed recommendations from the NTSB to address this glaring gap in our federal regulation. Only stronger passenger protection standards can prevent these unnecessary tragedies,” said Senator Blumenthal.
Specifically, the senators are calling on NHTSA to do the following:
- Evaluate the construction of stretch limousines, address the safety gaps, and identify how federal safety standards could be improved;
- Conduct a study on improving passenger protections;
- Develop specific requirements to inspect for structural safety once a stretch limousine has been constructed to ensure that only structurally sound vehicles are allowed on the road; and
- Review whether limousines should be classified as commercial vehicles, requiring limousine drivers to carry a commercial driver’s license and undergo more extensive training.
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 and passengers are not required to wear seatbelts. Additionally, limousines are currently subjected to minimal safety inspections. Schumer, Gillibrand, and Blumenthal called on NHTSA to evaluate these safety gaps and implement the necessary regulations to ensure that limousines are as safe as possible before they are allowed on the road.
The full text of the Senators’ letter is available here and below:
October 17, 2018
Ms. Heidi King
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20590
Dear Administrator King,
We write to express our grave concerns following the crash that occurred on October 6th in Schoharie, New York, involving the Prestige Limousine and Chauffeur Service that resulted in the deaths of 20 individuals. This crash, which is the deadliest transportation accident in nine years, demonstrates the troubling loophole that exists in current federal vehicle safety standards for stretch limousines. We strongly urge you to work with the National Transportation Safety Board in their investigation of this incident, and to work quickly to implement any recommendations arising from that investigation, including other regulatory changes that would improve the safety of stretch limousines.
Due to the way they are produced, limousines lack many of the modern safety features required on passenger vehicles. Safety features of a normal car, which are tested by the manufacturer and certified that they meet all existing federal regulations, are rendered useless when a car is converted into a limousine. To make a limousine, an individual vehicle is cut in two and lengthened following the instructions of a kit. As a result, stretch limousines do not have side airbags, are not required to be crash tested, and are not required to meet the safety regulations of a car when it comes to side-impacts or rollovers.
Some limousine manufacturers will install anti-intrusion beams inside the door and side panels of a limousine, which can be similar to safety pillars required in cars and help to lessen the impact when a vehicle is hit from the side. However, there are no regulations specific to the installation of pillars and nothing to ensure that these pillars prevent passenger compartment intrusion. Limousines are not equipped with side airbags, and passengers are not required to wear seatbelts. We urge you to evaluate the construction of stretch limousines to address these safety gaps and how federal safety standards could be improved. We also ask that you begin a study on improving passenger protections, including – but not limited to – the utilization of side airbags and seatbelts to lessen the dangers associated with a crash.
These vehicles are also currently subjected to very minimal safety inspections. Limousines are only required to pass a normal vehicle inspection, which have specific requirements depending on the state. Those inspections are designed to evaluate whether certain components of a vehicle, such as brakes, are properly functioning, but do not ensure that the vehicle is structurally sound. We urge you to develop specific requirements to inspect for structural safety once a stretch limousine has been constructed to ensure that only structurally sound vehicles are allowed on the road.
We also ask that you review whether limousines should be classified as commercial vehicles, as buses are classified as commercial vehicles, and subject to requirements under the Motor Carrier Safety Act. If all limousines were classified as commercial vehicles, drivers would be required to carry a commercial driver’s license, undergo more extensive training, and limousines would be subjected to rigorous inspection, repair, and maintenance regulation. Many limousines are not considered commercial vehicles, as they advertise as carrying 9 or fewer passengers which ensures they are exempt from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations. However, as we have just seen in the Schoharie accident, limousines may carry many more than 9 passengers. For this reason, we ask that you review the current standards that exempt them from adhering to FMCSA regulations.
Thank you for your consideration of this important issue. We hope to prevent the tragic loss of life in future accidents, and aim to work together to ensure that limousines are as safe as possible.