January 14, 2020

Assembly Passes Legislation to Make Limousines Safer and Prevent Future Tragedies

Speaker Carl Heastie and Transportation Committee Chair William Magnarelli announced the Assembly today passed a package of legislation to create critical oversight for the limousine industry, and keep New York's roads safer.

"Limos are used for happy, joyous events, but too often lack of oversight in the industry has turned that joy into heartbreak and grief," Speaker Heastie said. "These regulations build on the work we did last year in the budget, and will hold the industry accountable, saving lives and making our roads safer for everyone."

"Today's legislative action will make stretch limousines safer for drivers, passengers and everyone on our roads," Assemblymember Magnarelli said. "The bills enacted will bring oversight and reform to every aspect of the limousine industry, from licensing and inspection to the use of seatbelts and GPS. I believe these changes will save lives and prevent future tragedies."

"Horrific crashes right here in New York State have drawn national attention to the inadequacies of our state's traffic safety laws regarding limousines," Assemblymember Amy Paulin said. "Limos present a unique set of safety challenges for both drivers and passengers alike. My legislation will help address some of these deficiencies by ensuring these vehicles are equipped with seatbelts, limo drivers are being held to the same standard as drivers of other high-occupancy vehicles and that we continue to study these safety issues and make necessary changes down the road."

"The tragic limousine crash in Schoharie that claimed the lives of 20 people was deemed the worst transportation disaster in nearly a decade," said Assemblymember Angelo Santabarbara. "This horrific event left a scar on our community and the need for updated laws governing stretch limousines is apparent." Santabarbara added, "These bills are aimed at strengthening regulations and improving standards to ensure the safety of passengers. It's important that we get this legislative package signed into law a soon as possible to prevent tragedies like this from happening again."

Legislation passed today institutes policies that will make sure the drivers and passengers of for-hire stretch limousines are safer while they are on the road. One bill would require motor carriers to conduct pre-employment and random drug and alcohol testing of drivers who operate for-hire limousines, taxis and liveries with seating capabilities of nine or more passengers including the driver. The bill also prohibits consuming drugs or alcohol within eight hours of going on duty, as well as consuming or possessing a drug, controlled substances or alcohol while on duty (A.712-A, Paulin). Another bill would require every for-hire stretch limousine to be equipped with and using a commercial global positioning system (GPS) meeting national standards (A.9058, Santabarbara). A law enacted in the State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2019-20 Budget prohibited stretch limousines with a seating capacity of 10 or more passengers including the driver from making U-turns. One bill passed today would reduce the seating capacity for limousines that are prohibited from making U-turns from 10 to nine passengers, and increase penalties for violations (A.8172-B, Santabarbara).

Two bills in today's legislative package would improve safety in stretch limousines by ensuring seatbelts are in every vehicle and requiring their use. One bill would require that all stretch limousines altered on and after January 1, 2021 have approved seatbelts installed, and stretch limousines altered before that day must be retrofitted with approved seatbelts within a two year period (A.9057, Paulin). Current law requires passengers 16 years of age and older who are sitting in the front seat of a taxi or livery to wear a seatbelt. Another bill would require taxi or livery passengers 16 and older to wear seatbelts regardless of their seating position, and prohibit a person from operating the taxi or livery unless all passengers between the ages of eight and 15 are restrained by seatbelts (A.8990, Magnarelli).

The tragic Schoharie accident in 2017 was preventable. The limo that was involved had previously failed two state inspections but remained in use despite severe mechanical problems. Legislation passed today would authorize the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) to impound or immobilize stretch limousines that fail DOT safety inspections placing them "out of service." The vehicle would then not be released unless DOT is satisfied that repairs have been scheduled or made to fix the out of service defect and the vehicle has been re-inspected (A.9056, Magnarelli).

Other legislation in today's package would create more oversight of the industry, keeping it accountable and improving overall safety. One such bill would establish an 11 member task force on stretch limousine passenger safety, which would conduct a comprehensive review of matters influencing safety, adequacy, efficiency and the reliability of stretch limousine transportation. Members of the task force would include the commissioners of the DOT and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the Superintendent of the New York State Police and eight members appointed by the governor, six on legislative recommendation. A final report from the task force would be due November 1, 2021 (A.1316-C, Paulin). Also passed today is legislation that would require stretch limousine drivers to have a commercial driver's license with a passenger "P" endorsement, and require that stretch limousines comply with DOT safety regulations and vehicle inspections (A.8474-A, Santabarbara).

Included in the package is legislation to keep customers informed, and allow them to report problems they encounter with for-hire limousine companies. One bill would require the DOT and DMV to establish and maintain a toll-free hotline for reporting safety issues with for-hire stretch limousines. The DOT and DMV would be authorized to investigate reports and consider enforcement actions (A.8214-B, Santabarbara). Another bill would require the DMV to maintain and annually update its website to provide information on motor carriers operating stretch limousines, including the carriers name, location, address and region of operation; compliance with applicable driver qualification requirements; and data on limousines drivers and operations, such as the number holding valid drivers' licenses, the number of convictions and accidents, and the number of miles traveled in a year. The DMV would also be required to review driver files and annually verify that each driver holds a valid driver's license (A.9059, Santabarbara).

As part of the SFY 2019-20 Budget, the Legislature passed significant reforms to the limo industry. These reforms included provisions that would: