How many people have to die needlessly before the National Transportation Safety Board will prioritize limousine safety reforms and push Congress to act?
Four years ago this July, four young women from Long Island heading to North Fork wineries in a stretch limousine were killed as their driver tried to make a U-turn and was broadsided by a pickup truck in Cutchogue.
A Suffolk County grand jury made 24 recommendations on improving safety that included tougher standards for drivers and vehicles. The most important ones, including laws to require seat belts for all passengers, side-impact air bags and annual vehicle inspections, have never been implemented. If they had been, the 18 passengers in a modified Ford Excursion limousine killed last year while celebrating one passenger’s birthday in upstate Schoharie, and two pedestrians who also died, might still be alive.
Each year, the NTSB creates a “Most Wanted List” report of regulatory changes, which Congress uses to draft legislation. This year, once again, limousine safety has gotten short shrift. The only mentions of limousine safety in the 25-page report say passengers should use properly adjusted head restraints and be strongly encouraged to use seat belts if they are available in rear seats (they are mandated in front seats).
The report does not say their installation should be required by law. Nor does it demand side air bags, side stability bars in stretched areas of vehicles or post-modification inspections. That’s wrong. Sen. Chuck Schumer is demanding that the NTSB collect more data and provide more guidance on specific reforms so states and Congress can act. Schumer is especially concerned about the “stretch” adjustments made to limousines after they leave the factory. He’s right.
The failure of the NTSB and Congress to address this seemingly simple issue endangers people. It cannot continue.