This weekend marks the first anniversary of the nation’s deadliest transportation accident since 2009, when a limousine careened past a stop sign, through a restaurant parking lot and into a ravine in upstate New York. All 17 passengers, who were celebrating a birthday, plus the driver and two pedestrians, died.
At first, there were clarion calls for reform. Disappointingly, little has changed in New York since that tragic day, or even in the four years since four young women were killed in Cutchogue when their limousine was hit while making a U-turn. The last state budget included a ban on limousines making U-turns. But lawmakers, particularly in the Assembly, couldn’t get their act together to do more.
The National Transportation Safety Board this week issued a report on the crash in upstate Schoharie with strong recommendations, particularly on seat belt availability and use.
The NTSB analysis of that crash said none of the passengers were wearing seat belts, and that the seat belts were hidden under seats. That’s unacceptable. The NTSB concluded that had the seats been better designed, and lap and shoulder belts been available and worn, injuries "might have been mitigated."
Among the board’s recommendations: A federal requirement that every limousine passenger seat meet certain design standards and include a lap and shoulder belt, and state legislation to require all passengers to wear seat belts.
It is absurd that federal and state lawmakers haven’t made such simple changes already. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Chuck Schumer have advocated for similar legislation, and the State Senate passed a seat-belt law this session, but neither the full State Legislature nor Congress has followed through. .
Elected officials should also consider adding other protections, including federal mandates for added safety bars and side air bags, and a state requirement for limousine drivers to have a commercial driver’s license with specific certification for driving passengers.
There’s no acceptable reason to avoid sweeping reform. If they don’t act, lawmakers are making a deadly choice to sit back and wait for another birthday party, wedding or celebration to turn into a tragedy.