As prom season approaches, Assemblyman calls for limo safety database

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara. Photo courtesy of the New York State Assembly.

With prom season approaching, and the deadly Schoharie County limousine crash still a recent memory, a state assemblyman has proposed a bill designed to create a limo safety database for consumers.

The bill (A.5744), sponsored by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, would amend the state Transportation Law by requiring an immediate safety review of all stretch limousine companies and their vehicles. This includes a verification of all drivers licenses and records of drivers, and a mandatory inspection of the vehicle.

All vehicles that are not inspected, have failed inspections or do not meet the most current safety standards for any other reason must be seized, disabled and “booted” until they meet all safety standards required by law.

The bill would also create a public database on all limousine companies in the state, designed to provide important information for consumer protection, such as company records and violations, current vehicle inspections and driver licensing information.

Santabarbara wants to give consumers a way to check important information before hiring a company. The limo hired by the victims in the Schoharie County crash was operated by Prestige Limousine Services of Gansevoort.

The customized 2001 Ford Excursion failed two inspections earlier in 2018 because of issues with its brakes. The state Department of Transportation had ordered it to be taken out of service in September, and inspectors placed a sticker across the windshield that read “unserviceable,” but it was removed before Prestige picked up the victims. The vehicle was listed for sale on Craigslist two days earlier, advertised as “DOT ready.”

The database Santabarbara is proposing would have alerted the victims that the vehicle did not pass inspection, had been flagged by the stater DOT, and that the driver had several outstanding traffic tickets and that his license should have been suspended. A clerical error reportedly allowed him to keep driving despite the tickets.

Information about the limousine companies, their vehicles and their drivers would all be included in an online database provided by the state, similar to the New York State Education Department’s Office of the Professions licensing database that can be checked by a consumer online for current status and any violations prior to hiring.

Santabarbara said parents are expressing concern due to the upcoming prom season, and want assurance that there are safety measures in place. The new bill comes after 20 people died in a limousine accident in Schoharie County last October. The vehicle had previous mechanical problems, but was still operated despite the risk. The driver, 17 passengers, and 2 pedestrians lost their life from the crash, proving a necessity for aggressive reform.

“In the age of smartphones and technology, making this information public and readily available to consumers — in the case of prom season, concerned parents—provides an easy way to check important information before hiring anyone,” Santabarbara said.

The bill, which Santabarbara calls a “common sense measure,” is currently in the Assembly Transportation Committee. There is no Senate companion bill.