Is Your Prom Night a Disaster Waiting to Happen? Limo Tragedy Highlights the Dangers
Young people going to proms and others attending parties and celebrations in Hampton Roads often rent limousines. But how safe are these vehicles? A horrific limo crash that killed 20 people in New York State has highlighted serious safety issues in the industry.
Earlier today, the operator of the limousine company at the center of the death investigation was arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide.
The limo industry is no stranger to fatal crashes, but the crash four days ago in Schoharie, N.Y. has caused widespread shock and soul-searching.
The New York Times reported Nauman Hussain, a son of Shahed Hussain who owns Prestige Limousine, was taken into custody by the State Police during a traffic stop on a highway in the Albany area.
On Saturday, a stretch limousine rented out by Prestige, blasted through a stop sign in Schoharie near Albany, hitting two pedestrians and a parked car. It ended up in a shallow ravine. The crash claimed the lives of all 17 passengers in the limo, the driver and two pedestrians.
The limo was taking a party of people to a 30th birthday party at a brewery in Cooperstown.
What Has the Investigation Revealed About Limo Safety?
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this week said the limo failed a state inspection, meaning it should not have been on the road and the driver lacked the correct license to operate it.
An attorney acting for the limo company questioned this assertion. However, the New York Department of Transportation backs up Cuomo. State police and federal records from an inspection in September indicate the automobile was deemed unfit to drive.
What Questions Does the New York Limo Crash Raise About the Industry?
Once again, limo safety is in the news. In 2013, a terrible limousine fire in California killed five women in San Francisco.
The women were going to a bachelorette party. The victims included the bride-to-be. The women were unable to escape from the vehicle as it filled up with smoke.
That accident led to safety questions about the limousine industry in the United States.
Joan Claybrook, a leading federal auto-safety regulator under former President Jimmy Carter, warned at the time that the stretch limousine industry is badly regulated because the main agency that oversees car safety lacks the money to prioritize investigating the small businesses that modify limos after they leave the assembly line.
We are deeply concerned about reports that the stretch limo in New York remained on the roads after apparently failing a safety inspection.
However, there is a more fundamental safety question here. Critics of the limo industry refer to a “Frankenstein” system in which cars are broken up and put back together, losing vital safety features along the way. The notion that limo makers are creating monsters is a terrifying one and one that should make parents think twice before allowing their kids to use a limousine to go to proms or parties.
A stretch SUV limousine like the one involved in the New York accident is created by modifying an existing vehicle. The vehicle is cut in half and its body is lengthened. The interior is refurbished.
Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the nonprofit National Safety Council and former chair of the NTSB said:
“When we look at limousines and stretch limos, we see a really Frankenstein system of cars that potentially are cut up and put back together with parts and pieces that were not original to them. And additionally, some things may be taken off — things like airbags or seat belts.”
Airbags and seatbelts are fundamental for safety in accidents. The major modifications may also impact a limo’s ability to withstand crashes.
In our state, the Virginia Limousine Association stresses these cars are subject to rigorous inspections.
The association says drivers are subject to safety training, ongoing background checks, and compliance with insurance and other regulations.
The association states these duty of care protocols ensure that the providers who fail to carry out driver safety training and do not update background checks are filtered out. The association says limo operators must also be obsessive about the safety and upkeep of their cars.
That’s all very well, but recent tragedies raise questions whether there are fundamental design flaws in limos. The design of limos is being questioned like that of duck boats, following the drownings of 17 people this summer on a lake in Missouri.
The duck boat operator was hit with a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit in the wake of that tragedy. Wrongful death lawsuits will also likely be brought after the New York limousine accident, one of the worst transportation tragedies in recent years in the United States.
Until the results of investigations are known partygoers or others should be wary about using limousines. If you have lost a loved one in a car, truck, or motorcycle accident please call our Virginia accident lawyers at (757) 4555-0077.