AMSTERDAM — The families of the 2018 Schoharie limousine disaster have fulfilled a promise they made in the wake of the preventable accident that claimed 20 lives — to make the world a safer place by imposing new safety regulations for limousines with the support of federal lawmakers.
“We made a promise we were going to make a difference, because there is no way on Earth we were going to lose our children, our spouses, our siblings, our family members and let it go unnoticed,” said Jill Richardson-Perez, the mother of crash victim Matthew Coons, on Friday.
Families of the accident victims gathered at City Hall with Mayor Michael Cinquanti and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, to mark the passage of new limo safety reforms contained in the federal infrastructure bill that is scheduled to be signed by President Joe Biden on Monday.
“There are children that have been left behind from this tragedy … We promised to look out for their futures. We are going to take them under our wing to make sure this world is a better place for them now and we have just done that,” Richardson-Perez said. “We have not just done that for New York state, I am so proud that we have done that for our nation.”
The resolve of the families who worked alongside lawmakers was crucial to the development and passage of the reforms that will address “chronic failures” in the country’s limousine safety system to prevent another such tragedy from striking other families, Tonko said.
“For over three years we have carried these wounds, none of course more than the families who lost their loved ones to limousine accidents that never should have happened, that should have never been a vehicle allowed on the road. It has been a long journey, but together over these last three years we have kept our word to make good change,” Tonko said.
The Schoharie limo accident was the deadliest crash of its kind when a group of 17 friends from the Amsterdam area who were passengers on their way to a birthday celebration in Cooperstown, the driver and two pedestrians in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store were killed at the intersection of routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie on Oct. 6, 2018.
“But it was not the first and we knew that if we failed to take action it would not be the last,” Tonko said. “The brave families who found within their unspeakable pain a powerful resolve that has driven us to develop this legislative plan that will indeed save lives of many others and help prevent recurrences that would affect other families.”
The legislation that will be signed into law includes provisions over limousines:
- Establishing a program to provide funding for states to impound unsafe vehicles
- Requiring new limousines have lap and shoulder belts for each seat
- Requiring each new limousine to meet safety standards for seat strength and integrity
- Requiring the secretary of transportation to evaluate the feasibility of retrofitting existing limousines with lap and shoulder belts and seat systems that meet minimum safety standards
- Researching and developing rules on limo side-impact protection, roof crush assistance and airbag systems
- Researching and developing rules on how to evacuate limo passengers more easily and safely in emergency situations
- Mandating limo operators conspicuously share vehicle inspection histories with customers
- Creating a formal definition of a limousine in federal statute for the first time, making it easier to create safety standards
- Mandating the Department of Transportation establish a mandatory annual inspection regime
The Schoharie limo accident may have been prevented if the legislation had already been in place, Tonko indicated, thanking the families for their tireless work.
A National Transportation Safety Board concluded that brake failure caused the crash of the vehicle that was in violation of safety standards and failed multiple inspections. The report found the limo operator demonstrated an “egregious disregard for safety” by sending out the vehicle and blamed state agencies for inaction to remove the limo from the road.
“Together we have changed law and changed lives. This was a legislative journey made necessary by irresponsible behavior and untold pain and tragedy,” Tonko said. “Everyone is made safer because of the journey these families traveled unnecessarily.”
Kevin Cushing, the father of crash victim Patrick Cushing, thanked lawmakers and their staff for their work on the legislation and taking his many phone calls advocating its passage. He also thanked the families of the victims who have made limousines safer for other families.
“Today with the passage of the infrastructure bill we’ve taken a major step forward in making the limousine industry a safer industry,” Cushing said.
The effort to tighten limousine safety regulations helped the families through their pain as they continued the long work of “healing our hearts,” he added.
“This advocacy everyone in this room and others did over those three years helped us get through that pain and grief, because we were aiming at getting something done,” Cushing said.
Tonko credited the families with identifying the priorities of the federal legislation, saying lawmakers will be ready if further work is needed.
“If these folks come up with further modification as we learn about implementation of this legislation, we will be there with them to continue to fight,” Tonko said.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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