ALBANY — The state Senate on Thursday approved a series of bills intended to improve limousine safety in the wake of last October's deadly crash in Schoharie, which claimed 20 lives.
The bills, designed to address issues revealed by the Schoharie stretch limo crash as well as a 2015 crash that killed four young women on Long Island, include requirements that limos have rear selt belts and rollover protection devices.
The bills also increase penalties for illegal U-turns and other traffic violations by stretch limousine operators, and mandates drug and alcohol testing for drivers. Another bill would authorize the state Department of Motor Vehicles to impound limos that fail mandated inspections, and set up a reporting system for consumers to report safety concerns. One bill would also establish a passenger safety task force to review and make additional safety recommendations.
"The Schoharie limo crash was a terrible tragedy that would never have happened," said state Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, who attended a public hearing in Albany last month at which the families of Schoharie victims testified.
"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," Tedisco said.
The crash at the intersection of state routes 30 and 30A on Oct. 6 killed 17 young adults on their way to a birthday celebration, as well as the driver and two people in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store. Most of those killed had ties to the Amsterdam area.
Limo company operator Nauman Hussain of Cohoes faces 20 charges each of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in Scoharie County Court, with a trial slated for January. Prosecutors allege the 2001 Ford Excursion that crashed had failed inspections but been kept on the road. Court paperwork indicates police believe the vehicle suffered catastrophic brake failure.
"The devastation caused by that tragic crash is still felt so deeply throughout the region, and the entire state," said state Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam. "I want to thank the families, who in the wake of unimaginable loss, were strong voices to advocate for these changes to improve safety and oversight within the limo industry to prevent more tragedy in the future."
The state Assembly must now take up the measures and Gov. Andrew Cuomo sign them before they become law.
"Our work is never done, but we believe that with today's reforms we are taking a significant step forward," said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, whose committee crafted the legislation.
New laws already put on the books as part of the 2020 state budget process include new criminal and civil penalties for operating a limousine without state Department of Transportation authority or while violating DOT safety regulations, and increased insurance requirements from a $500,000 minimum -- the amount Hussain's company carried -- to $1.5 million.