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NY limo safety task force meets for second time

A slide from Tuesday's Stretch Limousine Passenger Safety Task Force meeting
Screen capture by WAMC
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A slide from Tuesday's Stretch Limousine Passenger Safety Task Force meeting

A task force that is examining New York’s limousine safety rules met for its second meeting this week.

As part of new safety laws passed in the wake of the October 2018 Schoharie limo tragedy was the creation of the Stretch Limousine Passenger Safety Task Force.

Though the legislation creating the task force was signed by former Governor Andrew Cuomo in February 2020, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the state, the panel remained dormant.

In October, Governor Kathy Hochul, who took office following Cuomo’s August resignation, announced new appointments would be made and the task force met for the first time last month.

This week, the 11-member body comprised of state and local officials, transportation industry stakeholders, and family members of those involved in limousine crashes in Schoharie and Long Island met for the second time to discuss several topics.

Agenda items included driver training requirements, limo safety inspection rules, even the age of the vehicles themselves.

But several times during the meeting, David Brown, President and CEO of Albany-based limo operator Premiere Transportation, inferred that there’s no need for more regulations, but rather better enforcement of laws on the books.

“No matter how rigorous the inspections would’ve been, it wouldn’t have stopped a bad guy like this,” said Brown.

That’s Brown referring to Prestige Limousine, the company that owned the modified 2001 Ford Excursion limo involved in the Schoharie crash. The vehicle was not properly inspected or certified.

Here’s Kevin Cushing, whose son died in the Schoharie crash, speaking with Brown during Tuesday’s virtual meeting.

“It’s the bottom-feeders that tend to give everyone a bad name…”

“Absolutely…”

“We need to find a way to get those folks off the road. David’s people do a great job, I don’t doubt that for one minute. Maybe we can do some good things as well, on the other side,” said Cushing.

“I agree, Kevin,” said Brown. “There’s always room for tweaking but, you know, just to point out to DMV and DOT, which they already know, there’s a lot of laws and regulations in place right now that we are laying to the letter of the law.”

There was also discussion on how to educate customers on limo safety.

Nancy DiMonte, whose daughter was seriously injured in a 2015 crash on Long Island, suggested requiring drivers inform passengers of safety rules and features ahead of a trip – similar to air travel.

“They’re looking for a good time, I understand it, but it’s like an airplane,” said DiMonte. “You see that oxygen mask drop down, you know to put it on your child before you put it on yourself. We all know that speech. And it’s very basic sounding, but you’re carrying precious cargo…

“…As is everybody,” agreed Brown.

One idea discussed is a consumer-facing safety rating system for limousine companies, intended to allow customers to more easily make an informed decision on hiring a vehicle.

Task force member Joan McDonald, the Westchester County Director of Operations, was skeptical of requiring a lettered safety grade – similar to health ratings posted in restaurants – preferring a more simple designation.

“If it’s ‘ABCD,’ what’s the distinction between C and D? I mean, if I was going onto the vehicle rating system, I actually like the ‘acceptable/unacceptable’ because I know I wouldn’t go to any company that had an unacceptable rating,” said McDonald.

Also discussed was the idea of retiring a vehicle due to age. DiMonte explained that the limousine involved in the 2015 Long Island crash was more than nine-years-old and was found to have been weakened by rust.

“How can you ensure that that thing wouldn’t have happened? Because that was a very probable reason that we lost people in that car. It just wasn’t right. It was soft. And so maybe the age of the car, did that bar just become too pliable? I dunno,” said DiMonte.

Ed Stoppelman, President of Red Oak Transportation, was dubious.

“I don’t know. I want to balance, first and foremost consumer safety. But I don’t know that a ten-year-old vehicle that is well-maintained that meets the criteria of CMC and/or FMCSA needs to come off the road at 10 years if it’s well-maintained and it passes a rigorous inspecting. But I do understand where Nancy is coming from. I completely respect and understand that.”

No votes were taken during Tuesday’s meeting. Recommendations were to be written up for future discussion.

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