Capital Region

Federal safety regulations proposed for stretch limos

Legislators pledge to fight for safety reforms
Kevin Cushing and Janet Steenburg, who both lost children in the limousine crash, embrace.,
Kevin Cushing and Janet Steenburg, who both lost children in the limousine crash, embrace.,

AMSTERDAM — Federal legislators, standing with some of the family members of the 20 people killed in the Schoharie limousine crash last October, unveiled proposals Thursday for new federal limousine safety regulations.

The crash occurred on Oct. 6, 2018, at the intersection of state routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie when a 2001 Ford Excursion, which had been stretched into a limousine, failed to stop coming down a hill, crossed Route 30A and crashed into a ravine near the Apple Barrel Country store. All 17 passengers were killed, as was the driver and two pedestrians in the parking lot.

U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, will introduce three reform bills in the Senate; U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko and Antonio Delgado, both Democrats, will introduce the bills in the House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuyerville, issued a news release Thursday indicating she will also support the limousine safety bills. 

Schumer, Delgado and Tonko were in Amsterdam Thursday to announce the bills. Most of the victims of the limousine crash were from the Amsterdam area.

The staff of the legislators said the proposed safety reforms must be broken into separate bills due to existing procedural rules in Congress. These are the proposed reform bills:

The SAFE Limos Act of 2019: Safety, Accountability, and Federal Enforcement  

• This bill would require each new limousine to have lap and shoulder belts that meet minimum safety requirements for each designated seating position, require each new limousine to meet safety requirements for seat strength and integrity. 
• The U.S. secretary of transportation would be required to evaluate the feasibility of retrofitting existing limousines with lap and shoulder belts and seat systems that meet minimum safety requirements.
• Limousine manufacturers altering used vehicles would be required to certify that the limousine meets federal safety standards. 
• The secretary of transportation would be required to develop and issue guidelines, best practices, and recommendations for limousine alterations.
• The bill would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to conduct research into the side impact protection, roof crush resistance, and air bag 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.
• Would require the NHTSA to conduct research and issue standards for exiting the vehicle in the event that one exit in the limousine’s passenger compartment is blocked. 
• Would require a limousine engaging in interstate commerce to disclose the date of the most recent inspection required under state or federal law; the results of the inspection; and any corrective action taken by the limousine operator to ensure the limousine passes inspection. 
• Event data recorders would be required for all new limousines.

The Take Unsafe Limos Off the Road Act

• Provide for the impoundment or immobilization of limos that fail inspection. 
• This act will 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 vehicle has an out-of-service defect or a defect related to its horn.
• The act would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to restart a dormant rule-making effort requiring states to inspect all commercial motor vehicles designed or used to transport passengers on an annual basis. 

The End the Limo Loophole Act

• This law would change the current definition of a commercial motor vehicle from one designed to transport more than 15 passengers to include vehicles that are altered post-manufacture to accommodate more than 15 passengers, as is the case with many stretch limos. This act 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.

Schumer said he has not yet received a commitment from the Senate Republican majority or from President Donald Trump to support the bills.

Amsterdam presentation

Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa introduced Schumer as the main speaker at a short presentation held at Riverlink Park. 

Schumer began by reading the names of the victims. He thanked the family members who attended.  

“The heartbreak that these families suffered on that fateful afternoon last October and every day since has been unfathomable. There is a hole in each of their hearts that will never heal, but even as the anniversary approaches, and we revisit the most painful memories of that time, the strength and resilience of these families and many others is astonishing,” Schumer said.

Also in attendance were Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Delgado, D-Rhineback, who both pledged to fight for stretch limo safety reform.

Nauman Hussain, 29, of Cohoes, the operator of the limousine involved in the Schoharie crash, currently faces 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter and 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide. Prosecutors have alleged catastrophic brake failure is responsible for the crash and Hussain is responsible for allegedly failing to get the vehicle adequately inspected after the New York State Department of Transportation placed a sticker on the vehicle prohibiting it from being used until it cleared a DOT inspection. The sticker was removed and the vehicle was inspected at the Saratoga Springs Mavis Discount Tire instead, officials said. 

On Wednesday the National Transportation Safety Board released its initial report about the crash  and outlined safety regulations that could potentially save lives in future stretch limo crashes.

The NTSB report said that no federal regulations currently exist requiring vehicles stretched into limousines to have standard lap/shoulder seat belts for all passengers, and no regulations exist pertaining to how to safely install seats into the elongated vehicles. The report said none of the passengers were wearing seat belts during the crash, the belts in the vehicle were inadequate and inaccessible, and the bench seats in the vehicle were attached to the floor only with screws.

The bench seats broke from the floor and flew toward the passengers due to the impact of the crash. The report concluded that nothing could have saved the life of the driver of the vehicle, but there was space available in the crashed vehicle for at least some of the passengers to have survived had they been properly secured by seat belts and more safely constructed seats

“That report confirmed our suspicions that these lives lost were victims of a woefully broken and unregulated system that failed by failing to establish or enforce basic safety standards,” Schumer said. 

Kevin Cushing, father of one of the victims of the crash, Patrick Cushing, spoke briefly on behalf the families. 

“There are many who are calling this upcoming date an anniversary, of sorts, but I would respectfully, somewhat disagree with that. Anniversaries, generally, thought of as a time to celebrate, but unfortunately many celebration opportunities, such as family holidays, weddings, birthdays have been lost to us forever with the loss of our dear loved ones,” he said. “With that said, today we would like to thank the people in our collective communities, the people who have cared for us, the people who have loved us, the people who have helped carry us through this incredibly difficult journey.” 

Tonko said there also needs to be legislation on the state level to improve safety standards for stretch limos, something that failed to pass during the recent state Legislature session. Local state lawmakers have been pressing for legislation. The Legislature is expected to take up the topic again in the new legislative session.

Categories: -News-, Fulton Montgomery Schoharie

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