Legislators start new push for federal limo safety improvements

A man walks around the memorial site of the deadly Schoharie limousine crash at the intersection of routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie on Sept. 29.
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A man walks around the memorial site of the deadly Schoharie limousine crash at the intersection of routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie on Sept. 29.

CAPITAL REGION – New York’s two U.S. senators and all three Capital Region members of Congress have launched their latest push for  new federal limousine safety legislation in response to the 2018 stretch limousine crash in Schoharie County that killed 20 people in the deadliest U.S. crash in a decade.

A bipartisan group that includes Democrats Paul D. Tonko and Antonio Delgado and Republican Elise Stefanik last year proposed safety legislation that was included in a transportation funding bill that cleared the House of Representatives, but stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Now, with President Joe Biden having proposed his own transportation infrastructure bill and the previous bill unlikely to be resurrected, the three House representatives and U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have reintroduced their original package of bills which would close safety loopholes and set new federal standards for limousines — especially those that have been “stretched” after-market.

“For too long, the families of those souls lost in the deadly Schoharie limo crash have shouldered the burdens of grief and responsibility without federal resolution,” Tonko said.

The crash at state routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie on Oct. 6, 2018, killed 17 young adults on their way to a birthday celebration, the limousine driver, and two pedestrians in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store. A state police investigation determined the aging 2001 Ford Excursion stretched vehicle suffered catastrophic brake failure on a long hill, speeding through a stop sign at 100 mph and crashing into a small ravine.

The police and a National Transportation Safety Board investigation both placed primary fault on limo company Prestige Limousine and operator Nauman Hussain, saying Hussain sought to evade New York state safety measures and knowingly kept an unsafe vehicle on the road.

Hussain, 31, faces 20 counts each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. His trial in Schoharie County Court is on hold due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Most of those in the limo were from or had a connection with Amsterdam, Tonko’s hometown and part of his 20th Congressional District. He is lead sponsor on two bills.

“As we turn the corner on this pandemic and seek a return to many of life’s celebrations, Americans should be able to trust the limousine carrying their loved ones is safe. That isn’t the reality today,” Tonko said.

The legislators are advancing three bills that are based on the legislation they first introduced in October 2019. Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, in whose district the crash occurred, is the lead sponsor for bill. Stefanik, R-Saratoga, is the lead Republican cosponsor.

“The heartbreaking limousine accident that claimed the lives of 20 New York residents is a tragedy that should never have occurred,” Delgado, of the 19th Congressional District, said. “We owe it to the families and communities affected by this crash, as well as the first responders who rushed to the scene to aid those in need, to create stronger safety standards.”

The package of bills includes the SAFE Limos Act, which requires that limos have safety belts for every designated seating position and adhere to federal standards for seats and seat assemblies. It also closes a regulatory loophole that allows used vehicles to be stretched into limousines without meeting federal safety standards.

The Take Unsafe Limos Off the Road Act adds incentives to states to strengthen policies involving limousines. The New York State Legislature, acting in 2020, has already adopted such measures as state law.

The End the Limo Loophole Act updates “Commercial Motor Vehicle” definition to include vehicles modified to seat nine or more people.

Schumer and Gillibrand have introduced matching legislation in the Senate.

“As majority leader, I will not rest until limo safety is prioritized, ensuring the lives lost in Schoharie are not in vain and our roads are forever safer,” Schumer said.

The NTSB issued a final report last November that recommended the federal government work with states to improve enforcement of safety-related “out of service” orders, that New York state agencies better coordinate to keep unsafe limos off the road, and that federal safety standards be voluntarily enforced by the limousine industry. In 2019, the NTSB also released an interim recommendation calling for stronger seatbelt regulations.

Schumer and Gillibrand said automobile manufacturers test the safety features of a standard vehicle, but those features are often rendered useless if it is converted into a limousine, increasing its weight and seating capacity. With the NTSB’s recommendations now in-hand, the senators announced their new push for action.

“I will keep pushing alongside my colleagues to finally pass this legislation that creates new safety standards for limousines based on recommendations from the NTSB and helps get dangerous vehicles off the road,” Gillibrand said in a news release.

The initial legislative review will be by the Transportation Oversight committees in the House and Senate.

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