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Get tough on safety of stretch limos

Five people were treated for nonlife-threatening injuries after

Five people were treated for nonlife-threatening injuries after a collision in Middle Island involving three vehicles, including a bus with handicapped passengers, police said. (March 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Christopher Sabella

Over the past few decades, limousines have gotten longer, fancier and more numerous. They clog the streets, need multiple lanes to turn, have significant blind spots and generally annoy others on the road and the sidewalks. And it seems regulations and oversight have not kept up with these extra-long vehicles.

A tragic accident brought that scary truth home in July. A pickup truck struck the side of a modified Lincoln Town Car attempting to make a U-turn, killing four of the eight passengers. They were young women out to have a good time in the vineyards of Long Island's North Fork. They avoided drunken driving by hiring a car.

Some hire these stretch limos for special occasions -- for safety, for loved ones. But is that limo safe?

It's very hard to say.

While safety regulations govern vehicle manufacturing, there is far less regulation and oversight of how vehicles are modified after they leave the factory. Stretch limos are most often conventional limousines that have been altered by aftermarket companies, sometimes dangerously. Critics say the modifications can weaken vehicle frames, reducing their ability to absorb crash impacts safely and leaving doors blocked.

Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to study crashes of stretch limos in the same way it does train and plane accidents, which is a good idea, as are crash tests to determine how stretch limos need to be built to be safe.

Once standards are determined, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must ensure they are enforced so that stretch limos can be used safely.

After July's accident, many questions remain about drinking and speed on the part of the driver whose truck struck the limo, as well as the decision of the limo driver to make a difficult U-turn.

But there are also broader questions to address about the safety of these amazingly long limos.


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