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New York State Senate passes new limousine safety bills

The limo involved in the 2018 crash in Schoharie, NY.
National Transportation Safety Board
The limo involved in the 2018 crash in Schoharie, NY.

The New York State Senate this week passed a series of limousine safety measures, including a bill extending the committee that advised lawmakers in crafting the legislation.

Speaking alongside colleagues at the state capitol, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins heralded the seven new limousine safety bills.

“Our state will never be made whole from the horrific crashes of our pasts. But the least we can do is enact stronger regulations that will prevent these types of tragedies from happening in the future, while modeling first-grade safety protocols for other states and the federal government to follow,” said Stewart-Cousins.

The bills increase penalties for limo operators who disobey safety inspections, enhance safety equipment and safety ratings, and require operators to deliver a pre-trip safety briefing to passengers – similar to when boarding an airplane.

It’s the latest attempt at reform in the wake of the October 2018 stretch limo crash in Schoharie that killed 20 people.

Senator Michelle Hinchey, a Democrat who before redistricting represented Montgomery County – where many of those in the tragedy were from – detailed legislation she authored that would take old limousines off the road – at either 10 years or 350,000 miles, whatever comes first.

“To make sure that when you rent a limo and you and your friends or your family choose to travel to wherever you may be in a limousine, it is the safest that it can be, it's been maintained, and making sure that the old ones that have been on the road, that quite frankly, should not be there anymore, are being phased out appropriately,” said Hinchey.

Another bill passed extends the operation of the special task force charged with reviewing safety rules for two years. The legislation passed by the Senate was crafted based in part by the recommendations from a spectrum of stakeholders.

Democrat Tim Kennedy is the Senate Transportation Committee chair.

“They've had collaborative dialogues, not only internally about stakeholders across the state and across the nation, and are helping to inform the Transportation Committee and our conference on our efforts moving forward,” said Kennedy.

One Stretch Limousine Passenger Safety Task Force member is Kevin Cushing, who lost his son in the Schoharie crash. Cushing has worked with other victims’ families to help pass new safety laws at the state and federal level.

“You think you're doing the right thing when you're working on a commission committee such as this and we're certainly opened up to candidates for people outside of the committee to maybe have a better understanding of some of the things that we're doing that have consequences that we hadn't taken into consideration. So, you know, I'd rather have too much time and too little, so I'm fine with the two years,” said Cushing.

But the advocates are disappointed by Governor Kathy Hochul’s veto this week of the Grieving Families Act.

The bill that received overwhelming support from lawmakers would have updated New York’s wrongful death statute and allow plaintiffs to receive emotional damages, let more family members seek compensation, and extend the statute of limitations.

Hochul, a Democrat, in a Daily News op-ed, detailed a counter-proposal that would “give parents of children who have tragically died in accidents the opportunity to seek meaningful accountability for their heart-wrenching loss while, for the time being, exempting far more costly medical malpractice claims.”

But Cushing said the law needs to be updated according to the legislation easily passed last year.

“Those are horrible laws that we currently have in New York state, incredibly regressive and unfair to people of color, women, children and elderly. Its a terrible law on the books that needs to be changed,” said Cushing.

Stewart-Cousins said the Senate will continue to push for the change.

“You know, we will continue, I mean, we were hoping obviously that that we would have it signed, and you know, we will continue to look at it,” said Stewart-Cousins.

Meantime, many are still seeking answers as to why the limo in the Schoharie crash was allowed on the road.

A long-anticipated Inspector General report released in October concurs with findings by the National Transportation Safety Board that the state Departments of Transportation and Motor Vehicles failed to use all available legal remedies to bring the company involved into compliance with state laws and regulations.

Republican State Senator James Tedisco of the 44th District said he supports the new laws passed by the Senate but took to the floor this week to call on the majority to hold hearings over potential state agency negligence in the 2018 crash.

“We can make all the accusations in the world. All I know is that everybody who lost their life – every family member, every New Yorkers in this state – should know exactly what took place which led to this loss of life and this failure to have this vehicle on the road,” said Tedisco.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.