CAPITAL REGION - The entire Capital Region congressional delegation -- a bipartisan group -- on Wednesday introduced three federal bills aimed at increasing limousine safety in the wake of last year's Schoharie limo crash that killed 20 people.
The proposed legislation would establish a full set of federal rules and standards for stretch limousines, which have been largely exempt from federal regulation in the past.
"Our limo safety plan reflects more than a year of painful work built on the guidance of experts, crash investigators, and most importantly the grieving families who suffered an unspeakable loss in the Schoharie limo tragedy," said U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam. Many of those who died were from the Amsterdam area.
The bills were jointly introduced by Tonko, Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and U.S. senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
The legislators announced plans for the legislation on Oct. 3 in Amsterdam, at a press conference attended by some family members. The was a day after the National Transportation Safety Board issued a preliminary report that didn't determine the cause of the Oct. 6, 2018 crash, but raised a number of safety issues regarding stretched limousines, which are altered after their original manufacturing to increase their capacity.
"While the investigation is still ongoing, NTSB's recent recommendations make it clear that critical gaps in the federal standards are undermining the safety of passengers," said Stefanik. "This legislation will close existing loopholes in the limousine safety standards and keep unsafe vehicles off our roads."
Delgado, in whose district the crash occurred, is on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which will consider the bills. "I will take every action I can in the House to move this legislation through the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and to the floor to implement these life-saving measures and keep our community safe on the road," Delgado said.
In the crash, a stretched 2001 Ford Excursion came down a hill on state Route 30 in Schoharie, ran at high speed through the stop sign at Route 30A, and crashed near the parking lot of the Apple Barrel County store. The crash killed all 17 passengers in the vehicle -- young adults on a birthday party outing -- the driver, and two pedestrians.
While Prestige Limousine company operator Nauman Hussain faces criminal charges of knowingly keeping an unsafe vehicle on the road despite its having failed state commercial vehicle inspections, the NTSB report found that there were general problems with limousine safety, with many lacking modern safety features.
Three pieces of legislation were introduced in both the House and the Senate on Wednesday:
-- The proposed SAFE Limousines Act of 2019 would require new limousines to meet new safety standards for seatbelts and seat strength, and require the U.S. Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of retrofitting older limos. It would also require that anyone who modifies a user limo to stretch it would need to meet federal safety standards, and require event recorders -- a "black box" -- in all new limousines.
-- The Take Unsafe Limousines Off the Road Act would create a federal grant program to support states' efforts to impound or immobilize vehicles that have failed critical state safety inspections.
-- The End the Limo Loophole Act would ensure that vehicles altered after manufacturing to transport more than 15 passengers would fall under federal commercial motor vehicles rules.