Something needs to be done to make these vehicles safer on the road

The safety of limousines has again come under fire after 20 people were killed from a horrific crash in upstate New York involving a stretch 2001 Ford Excursion limousine. The accident, which occurred over the weekend, killed two pairs of newlyweds, four sisters from one family, two brothers from another family, the limo driver, and two pedestrians. Details on how the people died are still unclear, but the aftermath of the incident has put the spotlight — yet again — on limousine safety, specifically on measures that need to be made to ensure that an accident like this doesn’t happen again.

This is the kind of news that leaves a pit in your stomach, and yet, you have to soldier on to shed more light on important issues about road and car safety.

At the very least, the accident that claimed the lives of 20 people in upstate New York is a wake-up call for regulators to impose stricter safety regulations on stretch limousines.

Laws on the safety of limousines vary by state, but there seems to be an underlying theme on passenger requirements pertaining to the wearing of seatbelts while they’re inside a limousine. As it is, New York law, which happens to have most stringent regulations in the country when it comes to vehicles carrying 10 or more passengers, doesn’t require passengers aged 16 years or above to wear seatbelts when they’re inside a stretch limousine. It’s a curious law, to begin with, but it has since taken a life of its own in the wake of criticisms stemming from the accident that killed 20 people.

"This does need to be a wake-up call,” Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), told CNN. “Here we have 20 lives that have been lost tragically. We do need to learn from this.”

While it is true that investigators have not yet said whether any of the victims were wearing seat belts, its assumed that most of them weren’t wearing seatbelts when the limousine crashed into an unoccupied parked car and hit two pedestrians before coming to a stop in a shallow ravine.

In addition to the issue of seatbelts, the very construction of stretch limousines has also come into scrutiny, particularly as it regards to their safety relative to other cars on the road. On the surface, it’s easy to understand why limousines are never as safe as cars.

Most stretch limousines are created by cutting a car or an SUV in half and welding in plates to help stretch the frame of the car.

The process of welding these panels, though, comes at the expense of pillars that are absent in the makeup of a limousine. These pillars, as we all know, help create a structure around passengers that makes it far less likely for a car to cave in upon heavy side impact. Cars have these pillars. Limousines don’t, making a side impact much worse for passengers inside one of these limousines. There are no side-impact or curtain airbags, either. If a stretch limousine is hit on its side with a good amount of force, the whole vehicle can literally split in half. It didn’t happen in this accident, sure, but that scenario has played out numerous times in previous crashes involving stretch limos.

Unfortunately, the limo that was carrying all these people had problems of its own. According to multiple reports, not only did it fail a safety inspection the previous month, but its driver also did not have the proper license to drive it. The inspection also turned up a number of other violations, including issues with the anti-lock brake indicators and defective windshield wipers.

These inspections may sound trivial, but they could also spell the difference between life and death, especially with passengers who are not required seat belts while they’re inside one of these vehicles. Something obviously needs to be done, whether it’s on a state level or a federal level, to address the growing concern surrounding the safety of stretch limousines like the one that crashed and killed 20 people.

Discussions have been happening for years, but nothing has amounted much in terms of addressing these concerns. Hopefully, this latest accident serves as the right wake-up call to make sure that an accident like this doesn’t happen again.

Source: Reuters

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