Editorial: Improving limo safety must be top priority

10/13/2018 6:00 AM |

In the weeks and months following the July 2015 limousine crash in Cutchogue that left four young women dead, law enforcement pulling over limousines and party buses for inspection became a familiar sight on busy East End weekends. The tragedy made all too clear the danger posed by such large vehicles, in which most passengers are not properly secured with safety belts, and emphasized that much closer attention must be paid to improving safety.

A special grand jury that investigated the crash called for tougher regulation of limousine construction, prohibiting limos from making U-turns and stricter licensing for limo drivers, among other recommendations. Out of a disaster, we had hoped, perhaps some good might come.

But this past weekend, more than three years later, another crash involving a limo occurred upstate — one that defied comprehension. Twenty people dead. Every person in the limousine perished. It was described as the deadliest U.S. accident in nine years.

As details began to emerge this week, we learned just how unnecessary this latest tragedy was. The driver allegedly had an improper license, The New York Times reported. The limousine company also had a history of failed vehicle inspections and was connected to a scheme to illegally obtain driver’s licenses. 

The limousine involved in the crash had been deemed unsafe. One of the victims even sent a text before the crash, saying she was worried about its condition. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it had failed an inspection only a month earlier. So how does a ticking time bomb end up back on the road?

More must be done to prevent these horrific tragedies, by improving limousine design, keeping unsafe vehicles off our roads and more closely monitoring the people who drive these limos, with so many lives in their hands. The 2016 grand jury report outlined more recommendations, including the installation of multiple “anti-intrusion bars” in stretch limousines and special licensing requirements specific to stretch limos and commercial drivers.

“Given the gaps in federal regulation of stretch limousines, New York State … could enact legislation that would make the streets of the state safer and protect limousine customers from any hidden defects in the vehicles they ride,” the grand jury report noted.

The families of the women who died in Cutchogue — Lauren Baruch, Amy Grabina, Brittney Schulman and Stephanie Belli — created the LABS petition in their honor. It was meant to raise awareness of the dangers posed by limos and support for safety improvements that could be implemented. “Let’s make some changes,” it reads.

The influx of limos on the East End won’t be slowing down any time soon, as the winery and restaurant industries continue to thrive. The upstate tragedy is another reminder of how much more must still be done to prevent future catastrophes and the devastating losses they leave behind.

As former district attorney Thomas Spota said in 2016, there’s “a fine line between a limo and a hearse.”

Photo caption: Left: Amy Grabina, Lauren Baruch, Stephanie Belli (top) and Brittney Schulman. (Credit: Facebook)

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