ALBANY - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday signed a package of 10 new laws intended to improve safety for those who use limousines.
The ten bills signed into law were unanimously adopted by the state Senate and Assembly last month, as part of an effort to address safety issues raised in the wake of the deadly 2018 Schoharie crash that killed 20 people, as well as a fatal 2015 crash on Long Island.
"These far-reaching reforms deliver much-needed protections that will help keep dangerous vehicles off our roadways, crack down on businesses that do not prioritize safety, and will give New Yorkers peace of mind when they enter a limo in this state," Cuomo said. "New York stands with those who lost loved ones in the horrific crashes that inspired this legislation and I commend the family members who worked tirelessly to help pass these bills to help prevent future tragedies."
Cuomo and the two legislative leaders announced on Jan. 13 that there was a three-way agreement on the package of 10 bills.
The package includes a law authorizing the impoundment or immobilization of defective limousines if they remain unrepaired, new mandatory seat-belt installation and use requirements, increased penalties for illegal u-turns, new commercial GPS requirements, regular validation of vehicle and driver safety information, new commercial driver's license requirements for limousine drivers, a real-time electronic system for passengers to report problems along with a DOT database of legitimate operators, and new drug and alcohol testing requirements for drivers.
Another law will create a passenger limousine task force of repsentatives from the state departments of Transportation and Motor Vehicles, as well as outside transportation experts. It will look at additional safety issues not addressed in the legislation, such as whether there should be an age limit when commercial limousines must be taken off the road, or speed regulating devices placed on vehicles.
"Following the deadly limousine crash in Schoharie that claimed the lives of 20 people, the need for updated laws governing stretch limousines was apparent," said state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, who district includes the homes of many of those killed in Schoharie and who sponsored five of the bills that became law.
“We’ll never forget the lives lost on that terrible day, and it’s imperative we do all that we can to prevent another community from feeling this type of pain and loss,” Santabarbara said. “These changes are long overdue, and I’m glad the governor signed these safety measures into law to help keep New Yorkers out of harm’s way.”
An agreement on bill language was reached between the two transportation committees in the Assembly and Senate shortly after the Legislature returned to Albany on Jan. 5, following the Legislature's inability to agree on bill language at the end of the 2019 legislative session, the first in the wake of the October 2018 stretch limousine crash in Schoharie.
While families involved in the Long Island crash have been working to get new safety legislation since that crash happened, their efforts gained new impetus after the Schoharie tragedy.
Much of the legislation responds to the circumstances and gaps in regulation revealed by the Schoharie crash, in which an aging limousine was found to be on the road despite unaddressed safety issues, and after it had failed DOT commercial vehicle inspections.
"These laws are going to make our roads monumentally safer for all New Yorkers," said Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie. "Ensuring that tragedies like what happened in Schoharie never occur again will allow all of us greater piece of mind to go celebrate and enjoy our lives, friends and familes. I commend the governor and all who made these reforms possible."
Criminal charges have been filed against the operator of the limousine company, along with numerous pending civil lawsuits.
Nauman Hussain, 29, owner of Prestige Limousine of Saratoga Springs, faces trial in Schoharie County Court in March on 20 charges each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, based on allegations he took a series of measures to hide the failed inspections and mechanical problems with the limousine, a 2001 Ford Excursion stretched after manufacturing.
The vehicle, stretched after manufacturing to carry 18 passengers, was coming down a long hill on state Route 30 on Oct. 6, 2018, when it went through the intersection with Route 30A at a high rate of speed and crashed, killing all 17 passengers, the driver, and two pedestrians. Prosecutors said the vehicle likely suffered a catastrophic brake failure coming down the hill.
Most of the passengers who were killed -- young adults on their way to a 30th birthday celebration in Cooperstown -- were from Amsterdam, or had close ties to the Amsterdam area.
"While we see these important bills signed into law to strengthen regulations and improve standards here in New York, I also urge U.S. Congress and Senate leaders to come together and pass similar measures in Washington, D.C., to ensure the safety of passengers in every state," Santabarbara said.
At the federal level, the New York congressional delegation is working on legislation to close loopholes in federal regulations that exempt limousines that are lengthened or stretched after manufacturing from most federal vehicle safety standards.
U.S. senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, issued a statement cheering the laws and saying they'll continue working for national safety legislation.
"I will not stop pushing until our comprehensive package of improvements to close loopholes and raise safety standards becomes law nationwide," Tonko said.