Stretch limousines are neither buses nor truly cars, New York's U.S. senators and one from a neighboring state are calling for new federal safety rules to regulate them.
The Oct. 6 crash in Schoharie that killed 20 people has revealed that stretch limousines are "woefully under-regulated," according to Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate minority leader.
“With the NTSB now investigating safety requirements for stretch limousines, today I’m calling on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to stand ready to implement recommendations from the NTSB that will enhance safety," Schumer said in a news release Wednesday. "The loss of life experienced in the Schoharie crash is overwhelming and must not be repeated; I’ll work alongside Senators Gillibrand and Blumenthal, NTSB, and NHTSA to do all we can to ensure that it isn’t."
The National Transportation Safety Board has been investigating the crash, which occurred at the intersection of routes 30 and 30A and killed the limo's driver, all 17 passengers celebrating a birthday and two pedestrians in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store. The limousine was traveling south on Route 30 just before 2 p.m. when it went through a stop sign without slowing and hit an unoccupied vehicle in the parking lot before crashing into a ravine.
NTSB officials have said they will look at "everything" involved in the crash, from the road conditions to the vehicle's condition to the driver's record, and make recommendations. Officials have said an initial report could come out within a week, but the completion of the full probe may take as long as two years.
State police have arrested Nauman Hussain, 28, of Cohoes, and charged him with criminally negligent homicide, alleging he should have known the stretched 2001 Ford Excursion had safety deficiencies, "including conditions affecting the vehicle's braking system," and that driver Scott Lisinicchia lacked the proper license to transport so many people.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., stated in the news release that the tragic crash painfully reveals the consequences of inadequate federal safety regulations.
"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must respond to this crisis, immediately begin working to implement new safety rules for stretch limousines, and follow the recommendations from the NTSB investigation as soon as they are finished," Gillibrand said. "My heart goes out to the families and friends of the twenty New Yorkers who lost their lives in this terrible accident, and I will do everything in my power to help keep our roads safer in the future."
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Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., joined with New York's senators in the joint news release. Blumenthal said his state has better laws regulating limousines than the nation as a whole.
"The state of Connecticut, which limits stretch limousines to nine passengers, could provide a good starting point for much-needed federal regulation,” Blumenthal said.
The three Democratic Party senators provided a list of recommendations for the NTSB and have written a letter to Heidi King, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, calling for action.
Specifically, the senators are calling on NHTSA to do the following:
- Evaluate the construction of stretch limousines, address the safety gaps, and identify how federal safety standards could be improved.
- Conduct a study on improving passenger protections.
- Develop specific requirements to inspect for structural safety once a stretch limousine has been constructed to ensure that only structurally sound vehicles are allowed on the road.
- Review whether limousines should be classified as commercial vehicles, requiring limousine drivers to carry a commercial driver’s license and undergo more extensive training.