ALBANY — U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko has gotten additional limo safety measures added to a $1.5 billion transportation infrastructure bill written by the House of Representatives.
The limo safety measures — which would force the federal government to finally require seatbelts in stretch limousines — have been pushed by Tonko and other members of New York's congressional delegation in response to the October 2018 limo crash in Schoharie that killed 20 people.
Stretch limos have long been exempt from federal laws requiring seatbelts and other standards regarding how seats are installed — typically after they are modified from regular SUVs into party vehicles. None of the 17 passengers in the Schoharie crash were wearing seatbelts at the time, and a National Transportation Safety Board investigation found the seatbelts that were installed in the limo were not accessible and likely were installed incorrectly.
The driver and two bystanders also died in the crash, which happened in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store after the limo's brakes failed as it sped down a steep section of Route 30 toward the village of Schoharie. Only weeks before, the limo had failed a state inspection and was ordered off the road. Many of the victims of the tragedy lived in Tonko's hometown of Amsterdam. They were on their way to a birthday party in Cooperstown at the time of the crash. The manager of the limo company, Prestige Limousine of Wilton, is facing charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in Schoharie County Court.
"The vehicle of the Schoharie crash should have never been allowed on the highways," Tonko said during an emotional conference call held Tuesday morning by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a coalition of consumer, law enforcement, insurance and medical professionals that pushed for the limo safety and other highway safety provisions being added to the infrastructure bill.
The conference call was held to announce that U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Frank Pallone, Jr. of New Jersey had added various vehicle safety standards regulations to the infrastructure bill, known as the Moving Forward Act.
Tonko said that consumers should never have doubts about the safety of a limousine they rent. The provision of the Moving Forward Act would require limo operators to post inspection results of their limos on their web site or another prominent place.
"They (the public) should be able to know that their limo is safe," Tonko said.