The horrific fatal crash of yet another modified stretch limousine this past weekend has us again talking about the lack of safety regulations for these vehicles. 20 were killed in the New York limousine crash, making it the deadliest transportation accident in the U.S. in nearly a decade. According to news reports, a Ford Excursion limousine went through a stop sign and hit a parked vehicle before crashing into a ditch. Two pedestrians and all 18 people in the limo died. Among those killed in the limousine accident were four sisters. Others included couples just starting their lives together and friends who came together to celebrate a 30th birthday. This limousine crash is an unspeakable tragedy that may have been prevented.
The dangers of modified stretch limousines
Why did not one passenger survive the limousine crash? It’s a question that investigators hope to answer. The concerning lack of safety regulations for these vehicles will certainly come into play. Modified stretch limousines are largely untested and unregulated. They often don’t have the strict safety measures that factory-built vehicles are required to have. This includes things such as side-impact airbags, reinforced rollover protection bars and accessible emergency exits. When limousines are first built, they must meet these strict safety regulations. After a vehicle leaves the factory, the oversight stops. When vehicles, such as this Ford Excursion are stretched and converted into a limo, the safety features are sometimes weakened or removed completely. This can result in serious danger in the event of a crash.
Although some automakers do produce stretch limos that are safer than many we see on the roads, there are many more out there that have been converted and are simply not safe. Some limos have been radically altered after factory and have not been properly safety tested. To modify a vehicle into a stretch limo, an ordinary car or SUV is cut apart and then lengthened with metal plates to create a much longer body. This often weakens the structural integrity of the vehicle. The modification may weaken the frame and reduce its ability to withstand the impact of a crash. Because of the way the seats are configured, most limo passengers are without the protection of seat belts and side airbags. Exits may have been blocked or removed during modification. This makes it extremely difficult to get out of the vehicle quickly and safely in the event of a crash. In addition, these long vehicles are extremely difficult for drivers to maneuver. Modifications may have created blind spots that prevent the driver from seeing properly. Limo drivers should also be properly screened, licensed and trained to drive this particular type and length vehicle. As seen in the New York tragedy, not all drivers are properly licensed.
More regulations needed for modified stretch limousines
Tragically, although they carry large groups of people, there is far less regulation and oversight of these modified vehicles than newly manufactured vehicles. Modified limos are often not engineered properly from the beginning and they often receive no testing and no quality control. Without adequate testing, dangerous structural deficiencies can be missed. Additionally, modified stretch limousines are exempt from federal seatbelt laws, because of their banquette seating. The lack of seat belts can prove deadly in the event of a limousine crash.
Many people who choose to hire a stretch limo are doing so because they are celebrating and want to be sure to be transported safely. They are doing what they believe is the responsible thing to do when celebrating, having a designated driver. Modified limos are carrying wedding parties, birthday celebrants and young prom-goers. They have no idea they may be putting themselves in harms way in a potentially dangerous vehicle. Without the protection of seat belts, airbags and other safety measures, even the slightest accident can cause serious injuries. Strong federal regulations must be put in place for modified stretch limousines to keep passengers safe. They need to be held to higher safety standards, so horrific tragedies like this don’t happen again.
The lack of regulations is concerning, so what can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones?
- Do your research before hiring a limousine company.
- Be sure the company is registered with the state and that all drivers are properly licensed. Ask if the limo has been modified or if it is a factory-built stretch limo, which is required to meet strict safety regulations.
- Call the Better Business Bureau to check on the company and to check for any complaints or red flags.
- Finally, the limo that crashed this past weekend had recently failed an inspection and the driver lacked the proper license for driving that vehicle. If you have a bad feeling about a company you’reD dealing with or the situation just doesn’t feel safe, don’t take any chances; look for another means of transportation.
Distasio & Kowalski is a Wilkes-Barre personal injury firm that specializes in representing the victims of auto accidents. Our clients are our top priority. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this fatal limousine crash.