Editorial: Grand jury’s limo recommendations long overdue

It’s nearly impossible to imagine that anything positive could ever result from the fatal July 2015 limo crash in Cutchogue. But a special grand jury report released this week, which suggests new regulations including a statewide ban on U-turns by limousines, holds out the hope that the tragedy has finally sounded an important wake-up call. 

Prohibiting such turns is just one of more than a dozen recommendations in the report, which Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota released at a press conference Tuesday.

It’s essential that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature take immediate action to enact such a law. It’s been nearly 18 months since four young women were killed at the intersection of Depot Lane and Route 48 and, for the first time, thanks to a year of hard work by the jurors, it seems meaningful changes could be coming thanks to the findings of the special grand jury.

The special grand jury was impaneled first to consider criminal charges after the crash and then to investigate limo safety and make recommendations. The conclusions in its report could affect the towns of Southold and Riverhead — with their dozens of wineries and wedding venues — more directly than any other area of Long Island.

As the grand jury noted in the report — which can be read in its entirety at suffolktimes.com — limousines have become big business on the North Fork.

“Some limo companies will work with a winery that is looking for volume … large numbers of people. And so they will reduce their normal tasting fee to a very low figure to encourage these companies to bring out the maximum number of people,” testified one unnamed representative of the Long Island Wine Council, according to the report. “It’s a real encouragement to them if the winery says we’ll only charge you four dollars a person for a wine tasting. They’ll get a maximum number of limousines. And that could be someone’s business model.”

One limo company owner testified that in the past seven years his business has grown 20 percent between April and October due to an uptick in winery visits.

Wineries usually accept limos only by appointment and often have a set of rules they ask the drivers to follow, the report states.

But what happens after the drivers return to the roadway?

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a horrific accident to shine a spotlight on the need to improve safety. The recommendations outlined Tuesday, including a critical requirement for multiple “anti-intrusion bars” to protect limo passengers in the event of a side-impact collision, are sensible and should be implemented quickly.

These guidelines will ensure the safety not only of the responsible individuals who book a limousine but of the general public as well.