WASHINGTON — The Senate added an amendment to improve federal safety standards for limousines late Wednesday to the massive bipartisan infrastructure legislation, which could get a final vote this weekend or early next week.
The safety measure, proposed in response to two limo crashes — one on Long Island and the other in upstate New York state in the past six years that took two dozen lives — was passed in a bipartisan vote 58-39, with nine Republicans joining 49 Democrats.
The measure won’t become law until both the Senate and the House pass the infrastructure bill, which adds about $500 billion in new spending for roads, bridges and other projects.
"Now, Congress finally has the opportunity to address the gaps and loopholes that have allowed limousines to escape the basic safety standards that cover other vehicles," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after the amendment passed.
Schumer, who co-sponsored the amendment with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), said: "My amendment with Senator Gillibrand would ensure that limousines meet minimum safety standards. It mandates seat belts and seat safety standards, and it will save lives."
The measure would address the current lack of safety standards for limos, including retrofitting vehicles already on the road with seat belts covering the shoulder and lap, and setting standards for vehicles that have been modified into limos, according to Schumer’s office.
It also would fund states to remove unsafe limos from the road, establish a mandatory annual inspection for limos, and require research and rule-making to determine how to protect limo passengers from crashes with adequate air bag systems and to create protection from side impacts and roof crushes.
The safety of limousines has been a major issue in New York state since the death of four women and injury to others in a 2015 collision between a pickup truck and a limo that was attempting to make a U-turn on Route 48 in Cutchogue.
Three years later, 20 people died when a stretch limo drove through a stop sign at the intersection of state routes 30 and 30A in the town of Schoharie, struck two people in the parking lot of a store and slammed into an earthen embankment.
The National Transportation Safety Board has agreed to begin investigating limo crashes, and a limo safety law that requires converted stretch limos to have seat belts went into effect in New York state in January.