Albany, NY - September 18, 2015 - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, today, announced that the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has heeded his call, agreeing to investigate future limousine accidents as they occur on a case-by-case basis—something the NTSB has never committed to before. The NTSB’s commitment to Schumer came just weeks after the Senator pushed the safety board to begin investigating safety standards on stretch limos and other aftermarket altered motor coaches to better protect passengers and make the vehicles more crash resistant. NTSB’s agreement to investigate future accidents is a critical step forward because it lays the groundwork for the agency to formally issue safety recommendations for altered stretch limousines. These safety recommendations, in combination with already available data, can then be used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to place additional requirements and safeguard on altered stretch limousines.
“It’s clear that stretching a limo can put the wheels in motion for a terrible tragedy. Today’s announcement from the NTSB means the agency heeded the call for better stretch limo safety standards and will begin collecting the data needed to address their dangers” said Schumer. “All too often, stretched limousines lack basic safety protections, including not enough side impact air bags, rollover bars, appropriate exits and more. That's why this unprecedented commitment from the NTSB to investigate crashes is a good and essential first step, but more must be done.”
Schumer further explained, “When a limo or bus actually leaves the manufacturing floor, it has passed all of the required federal tests necessary to protect drivers and passengers. However, these same limos are often taken to aftermarket shops where they are stretched, modified or changed, leaving safety standards at risk and both drivers and passengers in danger. We need new rules and requirements from NHTSA to help address this dangerous situation as soon as possible. Today’s news puts us on that path.”
Schumer’s original call came in the wake of a tragic limo crash on Long Island that killed four innocent young women and injured others. Currently, there are significant gaps in the safety standards required for stretch limos and other similar aftermarket altered motor coaches. Often times, secondary market manufacturers alter limos after they’ve been produced by the vehicle’s original manufacturer. These secondary market changes may be superficial changes to the vehicle or may be more drastic; for instance, changes may include adding length to the vehicle chassis, blocking or removing emergency exists, changing the vehicle’s weight or changing the vehicle’s seating positions which can impact its occupancy limitations. Therefore, many stretch limos may lack certain basic safety features like the necessary number of side impact air bags, reinforced rollover protection bars, structurally sound frames and accessible emergency exists that can aid passengers and first responders in the event of a crash.
Schumer originally pointed to a recent number of limo crashes that could potentially have been mitigated if stronger safety requirements had been implemented. For instance, in 2013 a limo traveling on a bridge in San Francisco caught fire and passengers were trapped without an accessible exit. And, in June 2014, a limo bus and a tractor trailer collided, killing one passenger and injuring two, including the well-known comedian Tracey Morgan.
Schumer, today, said it is a good first step that the NTSB has laid out plans to address limo safety in vans and stretch limos. He said addressing structural flaws in the stretch limos that so many people use every year at weddings, proms, and other special occasions should be a national priority, adding that it is terribly distressing that many passengers don’t even realize the risk they are taking when riding in a stretch limo that often offers limited protections.
Aside from agreeing to investigate future stretch limo accidents, the NTSB also made a number of specific safety recommendations based off of Schumer’s urging and other recent accidents, including:
- Recommending that NHTSA require modified limo van vehicles to have multiple passenger exits.
- Recommending that the National Limousine Association request its vehicle-altering members post the total passenger and luggage weight limits on vehicles they have altered.
Schumer reiterated his call that NHTSA implement these recommendations and issue additional requirements as soon as possible to address this dangerous situation. According to limo industry figures, 1 in 4 accidents involving stretch limos are side impacting. Despite this fact, side airbags and other protections are requirements left absent during the secondary alternation of limos.
Schumer’s original letter to NTSB Chairman Hart appears below:
Dear Chairman Hart,
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is our nation’s premier safety agency and has done a remarkable job over the years in identifying gaps in our nation’s safety requirements. I write to urge you to once again review a pressing safety matter, specifically the crash worthiness of altered limousines and motor coaches. As you know, secondary market manufactures routinely make significant changes to limousines that can have a direct impact on their performance in an accident. These changes can include everything from lengthening the body of a limousine to blocking access to important exits, and can have a direct impact on the safety of the passengers on board. Therefore, I urge your agency to conduct a top to bottom review of the safety of common secondary market alterations, and where necessary issue recommendations to improve safety.
I understand the NTSB is currently investigating a motor coach accident that occurred in Cranbury, NJ in June of 2014 and I applaud your work to date on that accident. However, I would urge you to go further, and begin deploying investigative teams to other motor coach accidents. Specifically accidents involving stretched limousines. These limousines are often lengthened by as much as 120” and yet do not always include additional side impact airbags, rollover protections, and reinforced frames. As a result, these altered limousines can perform much differently in crashes than the typical limousine and can pose a much greater risk to passengers.
Given how common these stretched limousines have become, and because there is relatively little information available about how they perform in a variety of crash scenarios I urge you to make full and thorough investigation of the issue. Recommendations from your agency can help guide both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and States on how to better regulate the safety of stretched limousines.
I appreciate your attention to this important issue, should you need further information please do not hesitate to contact my office.