Following the tragic limousine accident that killed 20 New Yorkers earlier this month, state Sen. Simcha Felder proposed the Stretch Limousine Safety Act that would take older vehicles off the road, make it clear to customers when a limo was last inspected, and require more extensive training for drivers.
Felder’s bill would define stretch limousines for the first time in New York State Law. In addition, the legislation creates a more comprehensive approach to the inspection and licensure of these vehicles in order to increase safety.
“On October 6th our state witnessed the deadliest traffic accident since 2009.The sheer magnitude of this tragedy stopped everyone in their tracks,” Sen. Felder said. “As early reports emerged, it became clear that there is a lack of consistency, reliability and safety in the way the state regulates inspection and licensure of the industry. This puts people at significant risk and needs to be rectified immediately.”
Felder notes that while many limousine operators take the safety of their passengers and drivers seriously, there seems to be a certain population of operators that does not, putting their passengers and drivers at risk in an effort to cut corners.
Nauman Hussain, operator of Prestige Limousine, has been charged with criminally negligent homicide following the deadly Schohaire County crash that claimed the lives of 20 victims including SUNY Oswego professor Brian Hough and State Senate staffer, Patrick Cushing.
Prestige Limousine’s modified 2001 Ford Excursion was traveling on Route 30 on Saturday Oct. 6 while bringing 18 passengers to a birthday party. Due to still-unknown reasons, the driver failed to stop at a dangerous intersection resulting in the death of 17 passengers, the limo driver and two pedestrians who were in the parking lot of a country store.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state department of Transportation told reporters that the driver did not have the proper license and the vehicle was supposed to be out of commission after failing a recent inspection.
“That vehicle was inspected by the New York State Department of Transportation last month and failed inspection and was not supposed to be on the road,” Cuomo said.
Stretch limousines are created by modifying a car or SUV to extend the body of the vehicle for additional seating. The process can threaten the structural integrity and safety features of the vehicle. Upgrades to brakes and other equipment are necessary to accommodate the extra weight of the new vehicle and require regular inspection.
“The Stretch Limousine Safety Act will ensure that limos are regulated in line with other for hire vehicles in a five pronged approach that also addresses their unique modifications,” Felder said.
Felder’s bill would require that stretch limousines be retired from service after 10 years. Taxi Cabs in New York City are currently retired after seven years due to wear and tear on the vehicle. There would be new rules and safety training as a prerequisite to licensure for limo drivers.
Upon failure of a DOT safety inspection, owners would have a 10-day window to make necessary repairs, during which transporting passengers is prohibited. If repairs are not under way in the given time frame, DOT would be able to impound the vehicle. These procedures ensure that vehicles deemed to have sub-par safety standards and operators who have not demonstrated a responsible commitment to passenger safety will not be transporting passengers, Felder said..
In addition, stretch limousine companies would be required to have a $2 million minimum liability insurance coverage plan.
The bill would also require that all stretch limousines display a license plate-sized sticker on a passenger door of the vehicle that clearly states when their last successful vehicle inspection took place.
Upon a failed safety inspection, a sticker of the same size clearly indicating that the vehicle is prohibited from transporting passengers would be displayed. Additionally, DOT will report the results of every inspection on its website
The bill increases penalties for violations and operating a stretch limo that has failed inspection would become a class E felony in New York.
“The patchwork of regulations covering the stretch limousine industry until now has been sorely insufficient. As the NTSB concludes its investigation, more issues will be brought to light and this bill will be amended as necessary. Nevertheless, it is a good starting point in the effort to protect customers and patrons of the industry. Limos are most often used for special events and celebrations, like weddings. We must do everything in our power to ensure that happy occasions don’t end in unnecessary tragedy,” Felder said.
Felder’s bill (S.9177) was introduced on Oct. 12 and currently resides in the Rules Committee. There is no Assembly version.
The deadly accident has raised broad questions of limo safety in New York state. The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into the direct cause of the incident. It is unclear whether the accident was a result of driver error or mechanical failure.
As the investigation moves forward members of the community continue to grieve. The late State Senate Staffer, Cushing, was a member of the Technology Service Unit based in Albany.
“He was an extraordinary employee and a wonderful young man who was loved by all. He will be greatly missed by his Senate family,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said.
Another victim was SUNY Professor Brian Hough, an assistant professor of geology at SUNY Oswego. Hough taught courses in stratigraphy, oceanography, historical geology, and paleontology.
“This is a heartbreaking loss,” said UUP President Fred Kowal. “My thoughts and prayers go out to Brian’s family and loved ones, as well as to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in this devastating accident.
“Brian was a caring family man and a dedicated, hard-working professor who inspired his students,” Kowal continued. “He will be greatly missed and always remembered.”
Cuomo issued a statement following the accident applauding the first responders and assuring the public that he will distribute the necessary resources to ascertain why the car lost control.
“I join all New Yorkers in mourning these deaths and share in the unspeakable sorrow experienced by their families and loved ones during this extremely difficult time,” Cuomo said.