One year ago Sunday, 20 people lost their lives when a stretch limousine crashed in upstate New York, and Sen. Chuck Schumer vowed to make sure another tragedy involving those vehicles never happens again.
Joined by two Long Island parents whose children were involved in similar accidents, the senator unveiled three pieces of federal legislation that would regulate extra-large livery cars. Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a set of recommendations for stretch limos, including closing a loophole that allows them to bypass various inspections.
Schumer and the families said they will be pushing to make sure the board’s recommendations become a reality.
"We have regulations for cars, we have regulations for trucks, but not for limos," Schumer said.
On Oct. 6, 2018, 17 friends bound for a birthday in Schoharie, NY piled into a stretch SUV limo that had failed inspections in the past. The vehicle lost control, careened through an intersection and struck an empty car, killing the riders, the driver and two pedestrians nearby.
One of the bills, dubbed the SAFE Limos Act of 2019, has several provisions, including a requirement that anytime the vehicles are altered, they be brought up to current standards and a mandate that every new limousine produced have lap and shoulder belts. The bill also calls for event data recorders, which aid in crash investigations, to be installed in all limousines.
A second bill would establish grants for law enforcement efforts to impound illegally altered and unsafe limos. The third bill aims to no longer exempt vehicles transformed into stretch limos from a set of commercial car regulations.
Schumer said these loopholes have left limo drivers with no oversight.
"You need the training to drive one of these massive things, and they don’t give them out," Schumer said.
Schumer said he expects some pushback from the limo industry and is prepared to fight it.
Nancy DiMonte, of Elwood, whose daughter Joelle survived a 2015 limo crash in Cutchogue that killed four people, said the bills are the least of what the industry can do to prevent any more tragedies.
"I’m lucky, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to work as hard to get done what needs to be done … We’re going to keep going, we’re going to the win," DiMonte said. "This needs to be changed for people not just in New York State but federally."