The New York state Senate passed a package of limousine regulations Thursday following deadly limo crashes in Schoharie and Long Island.
Democratic state Senator Tim Kennedy of the Buffalo area’s 63rd district stood alongside the families of limo crash victims as he outlined the regulations at the capitol.
“From requiring seatbelts in every vehicle carrying nine or more passengers, to mandating commercial driver’s licenses and drug and alcohol testing for drivers for for-hire vehicles...we’re taking significant steps to ensure safety measures are firmly in place when anyone steps into one of these vehicles," said Kennedy.
Kennedy chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. He says the package of nine initiatives would also set new insurance requirements for for-hire vehicles, expand license requirements for stretch limo drivers, and empower the DMV to take any limo that doesn’t meet safety standards off the road.
State Senator Jim Gaughran, a Democrat from the 5th district on Long Island, sponsored two of the bills – one that would increase penalties on illegal U-turns and traffic violations, and another mandating commercial GPS for stretch limos seating nine or more people.
“It will allow the drivers to know where there are sharp curves, where there are changing speed limits," Gaughran explains. "And quite frankly, it will also be a tool for the limousine company owner to go back and look and make sure that their drivers were driving safely.”
Passengers would also be able to do their part – Democratic State Senator Rachel May, of Syracuse’s 53rd district, says the bill she sponsored would establish a hotline, app, and website where consumers could voice safety concerns first-hand.
“We know that people have had these concerns for years, and had no way to report them – or their reports fell on deaf ears. So now this will require the DOT to pay attention," she says.
All told, 24 people died between October’s crash in Schoharie and a similar incident in Cutchogue in 2015. The Schoharie crash, which killed 20 people, was the deadliest transportation crash in the U.S. in years. It sparked a number of industry regulations signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo as part of the state budget. Kevin Cushing, who lost his son, Patrick, in the crash, was one of many family members to attend the Transportation Committee’s hearing on limousine and bus safety in May.
“A lot of interesting things were said, I know the limousine lobbyists were there and they were very, very concerned about limousine safety and additional regulations that could become a burden for them in the future," Cushing notes. "I’ll tell you what’s a burden: burden is burying your son, your daughter, your brother, your sister, your spouse. That’s a burden.”
As the investigation into the Schoharie crash continues, Senator Kennedy says one of the bills would establish a task force to further examine regulations already in place. Paul Schulman, who lost his daughter, Brittney, in the Cutchogue crash, says he won’t rest until he sees all of the initiatives made law.
“I make a pact every day when I visit my daughter’s grave that I will see this through, and there’s only two ways I will stop," Schulman says. "Either I get everything in this package, that’s put into the bill, or I’m put into the ground next to her.”
Mindy Grabina also lost her daughter, Amy, in that crash. She says the package is comforting, and an example of government listening to its constituents.
“Our girls did the right thing: they took a limo because they were gonna be drinking. They were visiting the beautiful wineries out in Long Island," Grabina explains. "This should not be a consequence of their good intentions and good actions. Limousines must be made safer, so everyone has a chance to return home.”
With the approval of the Senate, the package now moves to the state Assembly. Democratic Governor Cuomo spoke with WAMC’s Alan Chartock about the initiatives on Friday’s “Roundtable” program. He says he hasn’t yet seen the bills, but would sign anything that’s “feasible.”
“We already passed a very strict bill," Cuomo notes. "The limitation on what we can do is that vehicles that are certified by the federal government, we are preempted from regulating. So that’s the limitation.”