Limousine companies and safety regulations

Barwall: Drivers and vehicles tightly regulated by New York

Mike Baggerman
October 08, 2018 - 10:40 am

People place flowers, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, at the scene where 20 people died as the result of a limousine crashing into a parked and unoccupied SUV at an intersection a day earlier, in Schoharie, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - Saturday's deadly limousine crash in Schoharie is highlighting vehicle safety in the limousine industry. 

The crash on Saturday afternoon in Schoharie, west of Albany, resulted in the death of 20 people including the limousine driver, the 17 passengers, and two people who were at the Apple Barrel Country Store. The victims inside the limousine were en route to a brewery in Cooperstown. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said that it was one of the biggest losses of life that they've seen in a long time.

Kevin Barwall, the President of the Limousine, Bus, and Taxi Operators of Upstate New York, said that laws around limousines have changed over the years. He noted that manufacturers stopped the production of 2001 Ford Excursions, the SUV limo involved in the weekend crash, in 2005. 

"Seat belts were not mandatory," Barwall said. "Most builders that build these things did include them in there. In the back of the vehicles, it's not mandatory for someone sitting in the back of a vehicle such as this to wear them. Even if they are sitting there, they're not required to."

He said that laws have changed and now require any vehicle that carries over nine passengers, including limousines, to fall under the bus regulation. The bus regulation requires the use of seat belts. 

"It is monitored pretty strictly by New York State DOT as well as federal DOT if an operator is traveling outside the state or into Canada," Barwall added. "We are one of the strictest states in the country when it comes to regulations for vehicles over nine passengers. This particular vehicle is an older vehicle but it would fall under DOT and would have to follow all the DOT regulations."

The regulations also include monitoring drivers hours, a yearly physical, an annual background check, and random drug and alcohol testing. The vehicles are required to be inspected every six months. Barwall said all the limousines now are required to have seat belts in the back, but noted the industry is changing because manufacturers are building buses instead of traditional limousines that are cut in half and restructured.

According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, all front seat passengers are required to wear a seat belt but no one over the age of 16 is required to wear one in the back seat. Barwall said his company requires children to be in a safety seat in a limousine. However, the state DMV website does not differentiate between limousines and personal vehicles.

While the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board is still underway as of the writing of this article, Barwall questioned the vehicle involved in the Schoharie crash and whether it was a company vehicle or a personal vehicle.

"If it is a company vehicle, in a legitimate company, they are required to have all these items in the vehicle," Barwall said. "There are a few things that are grandfathered in such as seat belts and things that they are not required to have if it was built at that time. Moving forward it is required."

Barwall hopes that the weekend incident does not paint a negative in a bad light.

"Our company and many of the companies in our association are legitimate companies," he said. "We want to be 100 percent compliant with all the rules and regulations. I don't want to have problems where we have a vehicle with an issue or a driver with an issue because it puts a bad light on our company and our industry. Going out and checking the company and taking a look at a little research before will help you out in the long run."


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