Modified stretch limousines sacrifice safety for amenities, inspector says

Inspector questions safety of stretch limos

After twenty people died in a limo crash in upstate New York last year, there are new questions over the safety of modified stretch limousines. Unlike buses and other large vehicles, federal regulators have limited oversight over limousines. Instead, those laws are left up to states and cities – and a growing number of people think that's a problem.  

Most stretch limousines begin their lives as regular sedans and SUV's, which are then cut in half and extended to fit more passengers.  But because they're custom built, they are not required to undergo crash testing or meet the same federal safety standards as other vehicles.  

On one summer day in 2015, eight young women headed out in a stretch limousine for a birthday celebration. It was supposed to be a day of wine tasting on Long Island – but their limo was hit broadside by a truck after the driver of the limo made a U-turn.

"The ending to this day is just – it's worse than a horror movie," said Nancy Dimonte, whose 25-year-old daughter Joelle sustained serious injuries in the crash. Three other passengers were injured; the remaining four, including Paul Schulman's 23-year-old daughter Brittany, were killed.

"It's been nothing but hell since," Schulman said. "People says time heals wounds... how do you go around life and people think things get better when you lose a piece of you that you never get back?"
 
It's not just one state: limousine safety standards vary widely across the country. But just a few years later, in 2018, a limousine accident in Schoharie, New York, claimed 20 lives.
 
Dave Lipsky, who inspects stretch limousines for the New York Department of Transportation, says that in the absence of tighter regulations, custom builders sometimes cut corners and  prioritize luxury over safety.
 
"What they would do is put a beautiful bar in there, beautiful seating, and all the amenities to have the niceness, and put the weakness in the infrastructure," he said.  

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Lipsky tests a crash bar at his shop CBS News

A crash bar installed in a stretch limo brought to his shop for inspection, for example, is supposed to help protect passengers in the event of a crash. But Lipsky could bend it with his hand, and said it would provide "no resistance" during a collision.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is now calling on the National Transportation Safety Board to put more emphasis on major safety reforms nationwide.
 
"They haven't made it a priority," Schumer said. "Limos fall in between the cracks… You can make a limo in one state and it drives in another state and there's nothing that that second state can do about it… The safety of a limo is no different in Montana, Texas, Florida or New York. So there should be one standard."

In a statement to CBS News, the NTSB said it shares Sen. Schumer's concerns and have made safety recommendations for limos this year: directing passengers to use seat belts where required by law, and encouraging the use of seat belts and head restraints where not required by law.
 
The National Limo Association says it's committed to raising safety standards and is prepared to support "prudent and consequential safety regulations."