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Limousine Fire Prompts Questions About Safety Regulations

SAN MATEO (CBS SF) — While the cause of Saturday night's fatal limousine fire on the San Mateo Bridge remains under investigation, new questions have been raised about the passengers not being able to escape through the limo's rear doors.

Authorities said the four women who survived the fire squeezed through a partition that separates the passenger area from the driver, and the women who died were found near the partition. Rescuers eventually opened the rear doors, but not until the fire was out of control.

State Senator Jerry Hill, who represents the Peninsula, said child safety locks on doors is an issue that needs to be reexamined. Last year, Hill wrote legislation to restrict who can drink aboard party buses, after the tragic death of a Burlingame teen.

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"You're driving at 60 miles an hour and people are partying in the back of a limousine. You don't want them to open the door and fall out. With that being the only exit and without some type of emergency override of that switch to allow it open, it was a tragedy just waiting to happen," Hill said.

Limousines are built by QVMs or qualified vehicle modifiers, who are certified by Ford or Cadillac to do the work. But there are currently no restrictions on who can manufacture a limo, which worries Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a Washington, DC-based consumer advocacy group.

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"When you get into that stretch limo as the consumer you don't know what program it was manufactured under and even if it was under a QVM. You don't know for sure that it's a safe vehicle," Ditlow said.

Hill said he is also looking into whether federal regulators had passed on recommendations for the limo industry to the state and whether state failed to implement them.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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