Officials call for limo safety

Kevin Cushing, father of one of the Schoharie limo crash victims, spoke on Thursday following the announcement of the safety plan to prevent future stretch limousine accidents. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O’Hara)

AMSTERDAM — As the one year anniversary of the Schoharie limo crash that killed 20 people approaches, state and local officials are working to implement regulations for stretch limousines following the National Transportation Safety Board’s safety report.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and U.S. Representatives Paul Tonko , D-Amsterdam, and Antonio Delgado, D-Ulster, on Thursday in Riverlink Park, introduced the Safety, Accountability and Federal Enforcement of Limos Act of 2019, the Take Unsafe Limos Off the Road Act and the End the Limo Loophole Act to help prevent future tragedies involving stretch limousines.

Schumer acknowledged all the victims who tragically died in the crash and their survived loved ones.

“One year ago this Sunday, a heartbreak was felt throughout our community that will never heal. We lost the lives of 20 New Yorkers much, much, much too soon. No one can speak to the depths of that [tragedy] than the folks who are with us today,” Schumer said. “They made it their mission to increase the safety of these stretch limousines and close the fatal loopholes that claimed the lives of their children, friends and neighbors. They made it their mission to ensure that no more lives are lost from these tragic and preventable accidents.”

Schumer briefly discussed the SAFE Limos Act which sets standards for all limousines including safety belt standards, seating system standards, retrofit assessment for exiting limousines, safety standards for altering used vehicles into limousines, limousine compliance with federal safety standards, limousine crash safety, limousine evacuation and limousine inspection disclosure.

“The SAFE Limos Act is just pure common sense and I will reach out to every Democrat and Republican possible to make sure the bipartisan support needed makes its way through the Senate, through the House and on to the president’s desk,” Schumer said. “Legislation provisions within it will also have complete and total support of the grieving families who are here with us today. That’s what matters most right now. This is not about politics and it’s not about partisan victory, it’s about ensuring no mother, father, sister, aunt, uncle, friend, brother has to go through what these folks have endured. It’s about doing everything possible to help the capital region recover from this horrible tragedy.”

Tonko, an Amsterdam native, spoke emotionally and strongly on the subject.

“There’s something really beautiful about small towns. You get to celebrate on many occasions, you get to connect in powerful ways, but never does that connection become more valuable in times of tragedy,” Tonko said. “These families were asked to endure a whole lot. Standing with you, I can say I feel your pain to some degree, I can’t feel it all, but I have to feel your strength. It is your strength and your faith that has taken us on a journey of a year here where I’m impacted by your desire to go forward and make a difference.”

“No one has carried the wounds more than the families who have lost their loved ones — loved ones to a limousine that should have never, ever have been allowed on the road,” Tonko continued.

Tonko said the legislative plan will save lives and help prevent this type of tragedy from happening to any other family.

He introduced the Take Unsafe Limos Off the Road Act, which will create a new grant program to support states’ efforts to impound or immobilize vehicles that fail inspection for critical safety reasons.

“Let’s make certain there’s an aggressive partnership with federal and state government to make certain vehicles that should not be on the road are not on the road. Vehicles that serve as a death trap should not be allowed on the road,” Tonko said. “My hope is that our bill will help New York and the other 49 states to take action to keep their unsafe limos that fail inspection off the road. Just as importantly we need to take steps that ensures every limousine on the road complies with federal safety standards.”

Delgado thanked the first responders who were at the scene of the limo crash, and honored the 20 people who died in the tragic accident.

He introduced the End the Limo Loophole Act, which will ensure that limos comply with commercial motor vehicle safety regulations. The current definition of a commercial motor vehicle is one that is designed to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver; however, vehicles that are altered post-manufacture to accommodated more than 15 passengers fall outside this definition. This act will amend that definition to ensure all vehicles used to transport more than 15 people apply regardless of the initial design.

“This legislation will also require Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to annually inspect stretch limousines and restart a dormant rulemaking effort requiring the inspections of all commercial motor vehicles designed or used to transport passengers,” Delgado said. “These initiatives are all critical steps to improve the safety and accountability of these vehicles on roads.”

Kevin Cushing, the father of one of the limo crash victims also gave a statement.

“Today we want to thank people within our collective communities, the people who have cared for us, the people who have loved us, the people who are helping carry us through this incredibly difficult time,” Cushing said. “Lastly and certainly not least, we want to thank the first responders. They are the ones who came on Oct. 6, 2018 and took care of our families in a way that we couldn’t and for that they have our eternal gratitude.”

By Patricia Older

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