Assembly Passes Additional Legislation to Ensure Limousine Safety

Speaker Carl Heastie and Transportation Committee Chair William Magnarelli today announced the passage of legislation to ensure limousine safety and protect New Yorkers while riding in limousines. This package of six bills will add to the comprehensive reforms to the limo industry we passed during the State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2019-20 Budget.

“Limos are often used as transportation for happy occasions or special events. However, there have been too many tragic accidents involving limos that could have been prevented,” said Speaker Heastie. “This legislation will provide necessary regulations to ensure that all New Yorkers will be safe on our roadways.”

“The Assembly is committed to ensuring that New Yorkers are safe on our roadways regardless of their method of transportation,” said Assemblymember Magnarelli. “This legislation will provide necessary oversight to the limo industry so that we can help prevent future accidents.”

“Following the tragic limousine crash in Schoharie this past October that claimed the lives of 20 people, the worst transportation disaster in nearly a decade, the need for updated laws governing stretch limousines was apparent,” said Assemblymember Angelo Santabarbara. “The horrific event left a scar on our community and limousine safety has been an issue of concern ever since. These bills are aimed at preventing tragedies like this one by strengthening regulations and improving standards to ensure the safety of passengers."

“The measures we passed in this year’s budget went a long way to helping prevent limo accidents and keep travelers safe,” said Assemblymember Amy Paulin. “This legislation builds on what we did earlier this year to reform and strengthen the limo industry while continuing to protect New Yorkers.”

The Schoharie crash was a tragic accident that could have been prevented. The limo that was involved in the crash had previously failed two state inspections but remained in use despite severe mechanical problems. Included in this package is a bill that would authorize the Department of Transportation (DOT) to impound any stretch limo that fails to pass a state safety inspection and is placed out of service, until arrangements are made for the safe and proper repair of the vehicle (A.8302, Magnarelli). This bill also provides a process for limo owners to be notified of the impoundment and that repairs must be made in order to recover the vehicle.

The Schoharie crash also illustrated the lack of oversight and enforcement of the limousine industry. Another measure would require the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to annually review the driving record of drivers employed by a company that operates stretch limos seating 15 or more passengers, and verify whether these individuals hold valid licenses to operate stretch limos (A.5774-A, Santabarbara). Additionally, this bill would create a public database of limo operators on the DMV website, so that consumers can make informed decisions when hiring a limo operator.

In 2015, four women were killed and six others, including both drivers, were injured in Cutchogue, New York when a truck crashed into a stretch limo making a U-turn. Another piece of legislation would deter this behavior by increasing the penalties for stretch limos that make illegal U-turns (A.8172-A, Santabarbara). Despite employers providing training and prohibiting drivers from making U-turns it is difficult to make sure that these laws are enforced. This bill increases the fines to $250-$400 and/or up to 15 days in prison for a first violation, and $650-$700 and/or up to 45 days in prison for a second or subsequent violation within 18 months. Additionally, drivers operating a stretch limo and making an illegal U-turn while carrying at least one passenger would be penalized by fines of $750-$1,000 and/or up to 180 days in prison.

The Assembly also passed a measure that would require stretch limousines to use commercial global positioning system (GPS) technology to ensure that drivers are using routes that take into account the minimum clearance, weight restriction and turning radius of the vehicles (A.8171-A, Santabarbara). Certain roadways are not engineered for commercial vehicles, having narrow lanes, no or minimal shoulders, low clearances and other design features that make commercial operation inappropriate and dangerous. Employing this technology will ensure that limo drivers are using appropriate roadways to safely transport their passengers.

These recent accidents made it clear that limousine insurance policies may not always be adequate. As part of the SFY 2019-20 budget, the legislature passed a provision that requires for-hire vehicles with a capacity of eight or more people to carry a minimum insurance policy of $1.5 million in a “single combined limit.” This policy includes coverage for bodily injury and death. Another bill clarifies that this coverage also applies to destruction of property (A.7789, Magnarelli).

Finally, a proposal passed that would require all stretch limousines registered or sold in the state which are altered on or after January 1, 2020 to be equipped with seat belts for all seating positions (A.2157-A, Paulin). All seat belts installed would be required to be clearly visible, accessible and maintained in good working order. The limos would be required to post a notice in the vehicle encouraging passengers to wear the seatbelts.

Earlier this year, the legislature passed significant reforms to the limo industry as part of the SFY 2019-20 budget. These reforms included provisions that would:

  • Create new criminal penalties for operating a commercial vehicle knowing its registration is suspended for violating DOT safety regulations, or for operating without DOT authority;
  • Authorize DOT to seize the license plates of stretch limousines that fail inspection and are placed out of service, and clarify the authority of DOT to seize the license plates of all non-personal vehicles owned by a person found in violation of DOT safety regulations or operating without DOT authority;
  • Prohibit the DMV from registering vehicles failing to comply with federal motor vehicle safety certificate label requirements; and
  • Require stretch limo owner/operators to display valid operating authority, inspection information and driver qualifications, both where business is conducted and inside the vehicles.