ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Political leaders in New York have reached an agreement to pass new limousine safety bills inspired by deadly crashes in 2015 and 2018, officials said Tuesday.
The proposals target unsafe limos and lax regulations, said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, all Democrats.
“The crashes that have taken place because of unsafe limos and lax regulations are tragedies, and we have a responsibility to address this problem,” Stewart-Cousins said.
The legislation also includes immobilization of defective limousines, GPS and customer service resource requirements, regular validation of vehicle and driver safety information, creation of a passenger task force, and drug and alcohol testing. Another bill would require limo drivers carrying nine or more passengers to have a passenger-endorsed commercial driver's license.
One of the bills would require that motor vehicles converted into stretch limousines by January 2021 have at least two safety belts for the front seat and one safety belt in the rear for each passenger. The bill would require all stretch limousines to be retrofitted to include those seat belts by January 2023.
Relatives of some of the 20 people killed in a 2018 limousine crash in upstate New York have urged action on safety legislation so, they said, other families won’t have to endure the grief they have carried for over a year.
Kevin Cushing, who lost his 31-year-old son Patrick, said he was “overwhelmed” by the push for legislative action.
“”I hope this is a really big first step in making limousines a safe industry," he said. “I believe that it is. You can't necessarily win the war in this legislation. We got 90% of what we wanted.”
The crash near a popular country store in Schoharie, New York on Oct. 6, 2018, killed the driver, 17 passengers on a birthday outing and two pedestrians. The Ford Excursion SUV, which had been modified into a stretch limo, blew through a T-intersection and slammed into an earthen embankment.
A 2015 wreck on Long Island killed four young women on a winery tour when the limo was T-boned while trying to make a U-turn.
Lawmakers last year passed a budget that increased penalties for operating a limo without proper licensing or violating safety rules. They also authorized state police and transportation officials to seize the license plates of noncompliant vehicles.
But the deal announced Wednesday follows a disagreement among lawmakers and the governor last year on several other bills that in part addressed the oversight of stretch limousines and their operators. The governor had proposed banning stretch limos but later dropped the idea.
The legislative deal comes three months after the National Transportation Safety Board recommended tighter safety belt and passenger seat standards for new vehicles that are stretched into limousines. The federal agency recommended lap-shoulder belts in all seating positions and urged that limousine seating systems meet minimum crash safety performance standards.
The operator of the company involved in the 2018 crash, Nauman Hussain, has pleaded not guilty to 20 counts each of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter. He awaits trial in March.
Just weeks before the crash, the limo had failed a state inspection that examined such things as the chassis, suspension and brakes.
None of the 17 passengers in the Schoharie crash appeared to be wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, the NTSB said, but determined the poorly designed belts “would not have provided adequate protection.”
Separate federal legislation before Congress would require new limousines to have lap and shoulder belts for each seat and would require each new limousine seat to meet new safety requirements.
Cushing said he hopes New York's action will spur action on the federal level.
“We're cautiously optimistic that we're going to move forward in a slow, deliberative way and hopefully result in national limousine legislation,” he said.