October 03, 2019

Standing With Families Of Tragic Capital Region Limo Crash, Schumer, Tonko, Delgado Unveil Congressional Plan To Set Federal Limousine-Safety Regulations & Close Safety Loopholes That Allow Unsafe Limos On The Streets, Where They Do Not Belong In The First Place

Schoharie’s October 2018 Limo Accident Was Nation’s Deadliest Transportation Accident In Years; Reports Revealed Gaping Loopholes In Federal Safety Regulations; With The NTSB’s Safety Report On Stretch Limousine Safety Shortcomings Now Public & Tragic Anniversary Approaching, Schumer, Tonko & Delgado Announce Legislative Plan To Boost Safety Of Aftermarket Stretch Limousines On NY Roads For Passengers, Drivers, & Pedestrians; Schumer, Gillibrand, Tonko, Delgado To Congress: Honor The Memory Of The Schoharie Crash Victims And Enact Our Plan ASAP To Prevent Future Tragedies From Stretch Limo Accidents

Standing with the families of the victims of the tragic stretch limousine crash in Schoharie, that took the lives of twenty New Yorkers last October, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles. E Schumer, and U.S. Representatives Paul Tonko (NY-20) and Antonio Delgado (NY-19) today unveiled their plan to increase the safety of stretch limousines for all of the Americans and New Yorkers that ride in them; The plan is also supported by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who aided in its development. Specifically, the federal officials’ plan includes three pieces of legislation: The Safety, Accountability, and Federal Enforcement of Limos Act of 2019 (SAFE Limos Act), the Take Unsafe Limos Off the Road Act, and the End the Limo Loophole Act. The officials said that the Schoharie accident and just-released set of safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) show a clear and present need for new federal safety regulations for stretch limousines. The officials explained that their multifaceted plan 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, and urged their colleagues in Congress to honor the memory of the Schoharie crash victims and pass all three pieces of legislation without delay.

“Almost one year after the heartbreaking stretch limousine accident in Schoharie took the lives of 20 New Yorkers, the need to improve the safety of these dangerous vehicles and the roads and highways they travel on remains the same. With the first of NTSB’s safety recommendations now in-hand, we now have a roadmap of exactly what type of federal rules and regulations we need to get enacted to do so, and we’re going to do just that,” said Senator Schumer. “I’m proud to stand with Representatives Tonko and Delgado to launch our three-pronged plan to set federal stretch limousine safety standards, close loopholes that are making our streets more dangerous and get unsafe vehicles off the road, and I’m going to fight tooth and nail to see these changes signed into law. The loss of life and the depth of tragedy experienced from the Schoharie crash and the families surrounding me today is overwhelming and must never be repeated; taken together, these pieces of legislation will go a long ways toward ensuring it isn’t.”

“It’s been nearly a year since the tragic limousine accident in Schoharie claimed the lives of 20 New Yorkers, and my heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims from this terrible accident. It was our nation’s worst transportation disaster in nearly a decade, and Congress has an urgent responsibility to make sure this never happens again,” said Senator Gillibrand. “While the NTSB has outlined clear recommendations to help make stretch limousines safer, recommendations alone are not enough to prevent future accidents. That’s why I worked closely with Senator Schumer, Congressman Tonko, and Congressman Delgado to write a legislative plan to close the problematic loopholes that allow stretch limousines to forgo necessary safety standards. These commonsense bills will help make our roads safer, and I will do everything in my power to ensure they pass without delay.”

“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.”

“Today, I joined my colleagues, the families and loved ones of those we lost, and the brave volunteer first responders to honor the twenty people we lost nearly a year ago today in Schoharie County with action to address loopholes and improve limousine safety.” Congressman Delgado continued, “The legislative package we are introducing today will take overdue steps to improve safety, accountability and enforcement measures for limos that will keep passengers safe and remove dangerous vehicles from the road. I urge Congress to pass these life-saving measures immediately and protect our communities.”

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, the officials announced that in short order, they would be introducing 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 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, Tonko and Delgado 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 federal representatives announced the forthcoming introduction of the Take Unsafe Limos Off the Road Act 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, Gillibrand, Tonko and Delgado highlighted that currently, a Commercial Motor Vehicle is 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 federal representatives also announced the End the Limo Loophole Act, 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 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, Gillibrand, Tonko and Delgado said that taken together, the three pieces of legislation would go a 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.

Senator Schumer has long fought 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.