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Toughen New York State laws to prevent limousine tragedies

On Monday, people mourn at the site of

On Monday, people mourn at the site of the fatal limousine crash in Schoharie, New York. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Stephanie Keith

A driver without a proper license, a souped-up limousine that had failed inspection and a troublesome intersection proved to be a tragic combination this past weekend in upstate New York.

And now, in the nation’s deadliest transportation accident since 2009, 20 people are dead, including 17 passengers of a stretch limousine that was hired to safely transport them to a birthday celebration.

The horrific accident echoes a July 2015 crash on Long Island in which four young women were killed when a stretch limousine making a U-turn was hit by a pickup truck. Both then and now, young adults trying to be safe by not drinking and driving met death for their efforts.

The tragedy again puts a spotlight on stretch limos, which are often modified after they leave the factory, but inexplicably don’t have to meet the same vehicle standards for unmodified vehicles. After the 2015 crash, the state improved some inspection laws and required the driver and front-seat passenger to wear seat belts. But the holes in the standards remain bigger than the limos themselves. Federal law doesn’t require large limousines to have seat belts for those who don’t face forward, and most seats do not. Such stretch limos often don’t have side air bags, either.

After the 2015 accident, a grand jury made 24 recommendations, seeking improved safety standards and asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to create a task force to study the safety of stretch limos. On Monday, we couldn’t find any information on whether that task force was ever convened.

The limousine in Saturday’s crash apparently didn’t even meet existing standards. Federal safety inspectors are continuing their investigation, but we’ve learned enough to know the limo industry must be better regulated.

Among the victims of this weekend’s tragedy are many who weren’t in the limo — five children, including one child as young as 16 months, who will have to live without one or both of their parents, and parents who will have to live without their children. That includes the staggering loss of four daughters and three sons-in-law in one family.

What more will it take before something changes?

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