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Editorial: Legislature, governor must quickly pass new limo regs

Editorial: Legislature, governor must quickly pass new limo regs

Governor, Legislature must reconcile different approaches
Editorial: Legislature, governor must quickly pass new limo regs
The top of a stretch limousine is seen after a collision in front of the Apple Barrel Country Store in Schoharie on Oct. 6
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

To prevent another Schoharie limousine tragedy, we have to get dangerous stretch limos off the street.

Some kind of hybrid legislation combining ideas proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and by various legislators could ensure that people riding in these vehicles are safe.

It’s the dangerous vehicles, the uninspected vehicles, the vehicles whose operators ignore inspection and safety requirements, that need to come off the road.

We don’t know for sure yet whether the crash that killed 20 people on Oct. 6 in Schoharie was the result of driver error, inattention or illness; excessive speed; the condition or design of the road and intersection; the mechanical state of the vehicle, or a deadly cocktail of one or more of those reasons.

But we do know that the owner of the vehicle involved in the crash was operating illegally and circumventing the state inspection program.

So the state needs to take immediate action to remedy the obvious contributors to the crash.

To start with, the state needs to impose a ban on modified stretch limos for commercial use. 

These vehicles start off as regular cars. They are then cut in half and extended with metal bars, additional doors and bench seats.

But often, they are not modified with additional braking and transmission systems to handle the added weight, which can amount to thousands of pounds, nor do they usually have the safety features like roll bars, side airbags and seat belts with which factory-built limos are equipped.

These vehicles should relegated to car shows, not carrying 10 to 20 passengers on public streets.

Lawmakers also need to consider the provisions of a bill pending in the Assembly entitled the “Stretch Limousine Safety Act” (A1974).

Among the provisions contained in the legislation are requiring that stretch limousines be retired from service after 10 years; that operators maintain minimum liability insurance coverage of $2 million per accident; that prohibit someone from operating a stretch limousine without proof of the required insurance coverage; and that prohibit a carrier from transporting passengers in a vehicle that fails a DOT safety inspection.

The bill also would require carriers to affix to a large certificate to the passenger door of the vehicle demonstrating evidence of a successful safety inspection or failure of such an inspection. And it would require operators to attend a safety training course specifically for the operation of such vehicles.

We also support Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara’s proposal to give the public more information about professional limousine services.

He would create an online public database of all companies that operate stretch limousines, with licensing and other information.

That would allow potential customers to learn about the companies before hiring them.

Other legislation, first proposed after a fatal limo crash on Long Island in 2015, would create a Passenger Safety Task Force that would look at ways to improve limo safety.

We also support a requirement included in legislative and gubernatorial proposals to require passengers to wear seat-belts.

We also support requiring an upgraded commercial license for limo drivers.

None of this necessarily means the state should impose an all-out ban on this type of vehicle, as Gov. Cuomo has proposed.

Not all factory-built stretch limos are unsafe, and few are actually involved in accidents.

Still, Gov. Cuomo’s other ideas should be made into law — including increasing penalties for those operating with suspended licenses; giving the state more power to suspend the registration of vehicles, seize license plates and impound vehicles; making it a felony for operators to tamper with inspection stickers; and imposing more criminal and civil penalties on unsafe or delinquent companies.

The state’s oversight of commercial limousine services has been lax for far too long. 

No one wants a repeat of what happened on Oct. 6 in Schoharie. 

This is one situation where we need the state to get tough, and to get tough quickly.

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