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Limo Safety Measures Part Of Senate Infrastructure Package

The limo involved in the 2018 crash in Schoharie, NY.
National Transportation Safety Board

As the third anniversary of the Schoharie limousine crash nears, new federal safety measures are another step closer to becoming law after this week’s approval of a bipartisan infrastructure bill in the Senate.

The Senate on Tuesday passed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act with bipartisan support.

A victory for the administration of President Joe Biden, the package now heads to the House. But the measure includes several items related to limousine safety fought for by upstate New York lawmakers from both chambers after the October 2018 crash that killed 20 people in Schoharie.

Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke on the Senate floor on August 4th, after the chamber passed an amendment to include several limousine safety measures, part of a House infrastructure plan.

“The accident was preventable. There was another accident on Long Island, four young women in the prime of life killed in the same way. That was preventable. Now Congress finally has the opportunity to address the gaps and loopholes that have allowed limousines to escape the basic safety standards that cover other vehicles,” said Schumer.

Limo safety provisions included would fund states to impound unsafe vehicles; mandate the U.S. Department of Transportation establish an annual limousine safety inspection program; support research and rulemaking on crash safety; require limo operators share vehicle inspection history with customers; and create a formal definition of a limousine in federal law, making it easier for future safety regulations.

Capital Region Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat from Amsterdam – where several of the Schoharie limo crash victims were from – worked with the families to craft the proposed limo regulations.

Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Tonko reacted to the Senate’s inclusion of the limo safety measures.

“This is a major step forward for limo safety and really responds with great respect and sensitivity to the lives lost and to those family members who continue to mourn. And my condolences to them and the passing of their loved ones…and we have, really, sense to be in honor to have worked with them in developing the legislation.”

Other New York lawmakers including Democratic Representative Antonio Delgado and Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, along with Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, also supported the push for limo reforms.

Although the Democrat-led House passed safety measures in 2020, they were met by a roadblock the Republican-led Senate.

Kevin Cushing, an advocate who lost his son in the Schoharie tragedy, spoke with WAMC in June about the limo safety measures moving forward in 2021.

“Not knowing what we were up against…you know, sometimes ignorance is bliss and in this case, speaking for me, it’s been daunting. But it’s also been rewarding to know that we’re hopefully making a difference in a future, potential future issue that took other families…loved ones," said Cushing.

In his remarks, Schumer thanked the families of the Schoharie limousine crash victims for their tireless advocacy.

“It’s a beautiful things, what these families are doing,” said Schumer. “The whole in their heart will never go away. The hole in the heart of the whole city of Amsterdam, which lost so many of their vital young men and women, will never go away. But instead of cursing the darkness, they’re lighting the candle and tonight the candle was lit thanks to the bipartisan cooperation we have here.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.