Cuomo agrees to post-Schoharie limousine safety bills

Legislature approved 10 bills on Tuesday
The permanent memorial to the Schoharie limo crash victims
The permanent memorial to the Schoharie limo crash victims

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Saratoga County

CAPITOL — The state Senate and Assembly adopted new limousine safety bills on Tuesday, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he will sign them into law in an effort to improve limousine safety in the wake of the deadly 2018 Schoharie crash.

Ahead of the votes, Cuomo announced there was a three-way agreement between himself and the state Assembly and Senate leaders on the package of 10 bills that respond to issues raised by the Schoharie limousine crash that killed 20 people, and a 2015 crash on Long Island that killed four young women.

“These comprehensive reforms will give authorities much-needed new powers to get dangerous vehicles off the road, weed out bad actors and put into place common sense safety standards that will increase public safety in every corner of New York,” Cuomo said in a news  released. “The horrific crashes that sparked this action shook this state to its very core and we stand with those who lost loved ones in these accidents and worked tirelessly to help prevent future tragedies once and for all.” 

While families involved in the Long Island crash have been working to get new safety legislation since that crash happened, their efforts gained new impetus after the Schoharie tragedy.

“For the past 16 months, family members have worked hand in glove with both the Senate and Assembly to craft laws that represent a meaningful legacy to those loved ones [who] were lost to us on October 6, 2018,” Kevin Cushing, whose son Patrick was killed in the Schoharie crash, said at a press conference on Tuesday. “We can’t change the past, but we can make a difference for tomorrow.” Patrick Cushing worked in information technology at the state Senate in Albany.

The package includes impoundment or immobilization of defective limousines, new seat-belt requirements, increased penalties for illegal u-turns, new commercial GPS requirements, regular validation of vehicle and driver safety information, new commercial driver’s license requirements for limousine drivers, a system for passengers to report problems at the time they are being experienced, and new drug and alcohol testing requirements for drivers.

Another bill would create a passenger limousine task force of the state departments of Transportation and Motor vehicles, as well as outside experts, that will look at additional safety issues, such as whether there should be an age limit for commercial limousines to be on the road, or speed regulating devices placed on them.

All the bills passed both the Assembly and Senate without opposition Tuesday afternoon.

“Horrific crashes right here in New York state have drawn national attention to the inadequacies of our state’s traffic safety laws regarding limousines,” said Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman  William B. Magnarelli, D-Syracuse. “Limos present a unique set of safety challenges for both drivers and passengers alike.”

An agreement on bill language between the two transportation committees was reached last Thursday, following the Legislature’s inability to agree on a substantive set of changes at the end of the 2019 legislative session, the first in the wake of the October 2018 stretch limousine crash in Schoharie.

Much of the legislation responds to the circumstances and gaps in regulation revealed by the Schoharie crash, in which an aging limousine was found to be on the road with unaddressed safety issues and after it had failed DOT commercial vehicle inspections.

Criminal charges have been filed against the operator of the limousine company, along with numerous pending civil lawsuits.

Nauman Hussain, 29, owner of Prestige Limousine of Saratoga Springs, faces trial in Schoharie County Court in March on 20 charges each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, based on allegations he took a series of measures to hide the failed inspections and mechanical problems with the limousine, a 2001 Ford Excursion stretched after manufacturing.

The vehicle, modified to carry 18 passengers, was coming down a long hill on state Route 30 on Oct. 6, 2018, when it went through the intersection with Route 30A and crashed, killing all 17 passengers, the driver, and two pedestrians. Prosecutors said the vehicle likely suffered a catastrophic brake failure.

Most of the passengers who were killed were from Amsterdam, or had close ties to the Amsterdam area.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, who represents the Amsterdam area, has been an outspoken advocate of new legislation, and sponsored five of the Assembly bills.

“The tragic limousine crash in Schoharie that claimed the lives of 20 people was deemed the worst transportation disaster in nearly a decade,” Santabarbara said. “This horrific event left a scar on our community and the need for updated laws governing stretch limousines is apparent … It’s important that we get this legislative package signed into law a soon as possible to prevent tragedies like this from happening again.”

While the bills were negotiated by the Democratic majorities, Republicans also supported the changes.

“As a resident of Schoharie, the limo accident for me was a traumatic event that was felt by everyone in our community,” said Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie. “To see the Legislature take such firm and comprehensive steps to ensure that such an event never occurs again is a huge relief for families, first responders and members of the community.”

“The Schoharie limo crash was a terrible tragedy that should never have happened,” said Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville. “As elected representatives we have a responsibility to public safety to learn what went wrong and do our best to help prevent something like this from ever happening again.”

At the federal level, the New York congressional delegation is working on legislation to close loopholes in federal regulations that exempt limousines that are lengthened or stretched after manufacturing from most federal vehicle safety standards.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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