The National Transportation Safety Board recommended New York pass legislation to require mandatory seat belt use for passengers in limousines, according to a safety report released earlier this month.
The NTSB report follows a pair of deadly limousine crashes in New York, including the 2015 crash in Cutchogue that left four young women dead, and the upstate crash in Schoharie last year that killed 20.
The report lists a series of recommendations for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the NYS Department of Transportation and the National Limousine Association, surrounding heightened safety precautions for limos. Some of them include lap and shoulder pads for each passenger on all new vehicles, requiring that seating systems installed in new vehicles meet minimum performance standards, educating limousine operators on life-saving benefits for proper seat belt use and “enact[ing] legislation that provides for primary enforcement of a mandatory seat belt use law.” The NTSB identified several “safety issues related to occupant protection” that the report summarized must be addressed in order to decrease fatalities.
One year to the day of the 2018 crash, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent out a press release outlining finalized federal limo safety regulations he plans to introduce as part of the SAFE Limos Act of 2019.
Nancy DiMonte of East Northport has been advocating for stricter limo regulations for the past four years. Her daughter, Joelle, survived the 2015 crash that killed four of her friends. Joelle sustained her own injuries, for which she is undergoing medical treatment to this day, her mother said.
“The last year, but particularly the last few months, there’s been a lot of discussion and communication on this topic and we’ve been very informed and we’ve been writing and rewriting and taking out,” Ms. DiMonte said. “We know that it’s a process and things don’t happen overnight because if they do then that means these bills will not be looked at.”
Ms. DiMonte said the goal is increased safety not only in New York, but federally.
“What we’re looking for here is safety for everybody,” she said. “We don’t want to see this happen again … and we don’t want to see anybody fall through the cracks anymore. The industry, unfortunately, has fallen through the cracks.”
Mr. Schumer’s SAFE Limos Act mandates the recommendations made by the NTSB, but goes further in requiring that limousine manufacturers altering used vehicles certify that federal safety standards are met. The legislation would direct the Secretary of Transportation to develop and issue guidelines to assist a limousine alterer in best practices. It also directs the NHTSA to conduct research into limousine crashes — including side impact protection, roof crush resistance and airbag system protections for all limousine occupants. His plan also requires research be conducted into limousine evacuation methods, in the case that one or more exits in the limousine’s passenger compartment are blocked. Lastly, as part of the SAFE Limos Act, the legislation would require the use of event data recorders, a device that is installed in the vehicle to collect valuable information about the nature of crashes— much like a black box — for all new limos.
Working with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. representatives Paul Tonko (D-Amsterdam) and Antonio Delgado (D-Rhinebeck), Mr. Schumer is also planning to introduce the Take Unsafe Limos Off the Road Act, which would “create a new grant program to support states’ efforts to impound or immobilize vehicles that fail inspection for critical safety reasons,” according to a press release. He is also calling to eliminate a safety loophole that affects stretch limos altered after manufacture as part of the End the Limo Loophole Act.
The bills will be sent to the federal government this week , Ms. DiMonte said, with the help of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mr. Schumer.
“The industry has not been regulated enough,” she said. “We’re not looking to hurt them, we’re only looking to help them because the industry, once they get on board and they take care of what has to be, the bad industry will be gone and the good ones will remain in a very prosperous sort of way.”
Ms. DiMonte said all the families of victims and those injured have been looking for is action: a stricter seat belt policy, that drivers are commercial driver’s license-certified, that inspections are tighter and that their are impound requirements for vehicles that carry nine or more passengers.
“Gov. Cuomo’s budget – they did a fantastic job,” Ms. DiMonte said. “They already got some of these U-turns, they’re now not legal anywhere in New York State [for] limos. They also succeeded in raising inspection fees and felony punishment, should somebody cause an accident because they break the law — and that’s huge.”