ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York's governor signed a package of limousine safety bills Monday that was inspired by deadly crashes in 2015 and 2018.
One of the bills would require that motor vehicles converted into stretch limousines by January 2021 have at least two safety belts for the front seat and one safety belt in the rear for each passenger. The bill would require all stretch limousines to be retrofitted to include those seat belts by January 2023. Another bill would require limo drivers carrying nine or more passengers to have a passenger-endorsed commercial driver's license.
"These far-reaching reforms deliver much-needed protections that will help keep dangerous vehicles off our roadways, crack down on businesses that do not prioritize safety and will give New Yorkers peace of mind when they enter a limo in this state," Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said.
Relatives of some of the 20 people killed in a 2018 limousine crash in upstate New York have urged action on safety legislation so other families won't have to endure the grief they have.
In that crash in Schoharie, New York, on Oct. 6, 2018, the Ford Excursion SUV, which had been modified into a stretch limo, blew through a T-intersection and slammed into an earthen embankment. The driver, 17 passengers on a birthday outing and two pedestrians were killed.
The operator of the company involved in the crash, Nauman Hussain, has pleaded not guilty to 20 counts each of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter. He awaits trial in March.
Just weeks before the crash, the limo had failed a state inspection that examined such things as the chassis, suspension and brakes.
A 2015 wreck on Long Island killed four young women on a winery tour when the limo was T-boned while trying to make a U-turn.
Lawmakers last year passed a budget that increased penalties for operating a limo without proper licensing or violating safety rules. They also authorized state police and transportation officials to seize the license plates of noncompliant vehicles.
But lawmakers and the governor disagreed last year on several other bills that in part addressed the oversight of stretch limousines and their operators. The governor had proposed banning stretch limos but later dropped the idea.
The bill signings Monday come several months after the National Transportation Safety Board recommended tighter safety belt and passenger seat standards for new vehicles that are stretched into limousines. The federal agency recommended lap-shoulder belts in all seating positions and urged that limousine seating systems meet minimum crash safety performance standards.
Separate legislation before Congress would require new limousines to have lap and shoulder belts for each seat and would require each new limousine seat to meet new safety requirements.
None of the 17 passengers in the Schoharie crash appeared to be wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, the NTSB said, but determined the poorly designed belts "would not have provided adequate protection."