Schumer: Investigate stretch limo industry; update regulations 

Sen. Chuck Schumer holds a picture of a stretch limousine like the one that crashed upstate, killing 20.
Sen. Chuck Schumer holds a picture of a stretch limousine like the one that crashed upstate, killing 20. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

The federal government must respond to the upstate crash of a stretch limousine that killed 20 by recommending   regulatory reform targeting the industry that hires out the specialty vehicles, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday.

“One of the problems is there are gaping, glaring loopholes in regulating stretch limousines. And, for sure, for every inch a limousine stretches … they get considerably more dangerous,” the Democratic Senate minority leader said during a news conference in his Manhattan office. “They are neither classified as trucks or as cars, and while limousines themselves are glutting, when they are stretched … there is no regulation at all.”

Schumer, at the same time, criticized the National Transportation Safety Board, the independent federal body in charge of reviewing transit crashes, for failing to live up to a 2015 commitment to investigate and provide recommendations for each large limousine crash in the country — investigations that could have led to more regulatory oversight. The agency has not investigated or published data on any limo crash since, Schumer said.

“What I’m asking is that the NTSB investigate every stretch limo crash that we’ve had in this country,” Schumer said. “There have been a bunch. There’s now enough information to make recommendations … as to safety standards.”

Between 2012 and 2016, there were 12 large limo crashes in the United States,  leading to 12 deaths, according to data compiled by Schumer’s office.

The safety of stretch limousines came under more intense scrutiny after 17 friends and relatives, their driver, and two pedestrians were killed on Oct. 6, when their modified 2001 Ford Excursion crashed in upstate Schoharie. The limousine barreled past a stop sign and into another vehicle in a parking lot in what was the deadliest transportation crash in nearly a decade.

State Police on Wednesday accused Nauman Hussain, 28, the operator of Prestige Limousine, the company involved in the crash, of criminally negligent homicide for renting out the vehicle even though it had failed a state inspection.

The NTSB did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The board is currently conducting an investigation into the Schoharie crash.

There are several ways in which modified, stretch limousines “fall through the regulatory cracks,” according to Schumer. There are no standards for side-impact airbags, rollover bars or exits. And limousines with fewer than eight forward-facing seats are exempt from federal seatbelt regulations, he said.

Schumer had first requested the NTSB to investigate limo crashes following the deadly 2015 crash in Cutchogue, when four women were killed in a limousine that collided with a pick-up truck. He’s now also asking that state authorities to alert the NTSB of limousine crashes to ensure that the board can launch investigations. He expects safety regulation recommendations to come within six months. Should the NTSB or state authorities not comply, Schumer would pursue new legislation to force the work. 

"If they don’t, we will look at legislation requiring it,” Schumer said. “It wouldn’t be hard. The transportation bill has to be done by Dec. 31, and if we don’t get immediate cooperation, I could write a clause into that bill to put it in there, which I will do.”

Schumer’s comments clash with those of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who last week said he didn’t believe new regulations would be necessary for the limousine industry.

“I don’t know that this is a situation where we can find a new law or a new regulation,” Cuomo said, days after the crash. “This instinct is always: we need a new law; we need a new regulation. Sometimes the issue is the law worked fine and the regulation worked fine. They were just broken.”