ALBANY – Several bills with major Senate and Assembly sponsors advanced this week in the Legislature that revived efforts to improve the safety of rental limousines following recent fatal crashes upstate and on Long Island.
Several similar bills failed to pass late in the session last year, disappointing the families of those who died or were injured in crashes. Some lawmakers at that time said the measures were too broad and unnecessarily hampered the entire industry, rather than targeting a few irresponsible operators.
“I am very confident the bills will pass,” said Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) in an interview Thursday. He said modifications to bills that didn’t pass last year were made after discussions over the summer. “I have spoken to some of the advocates from Long Island who had loved ones involved in the tragedies and they seem to be very supportive.”
The bills would require seat belts to be installed; require drivers to secure commercial driver’s licenses with an endorsement to drive passengers; mandate drug and alcohol test for drivers of vehicles with nine or more passengers; increase criminal penalties for drivers; allow immediate seizing and impounding of unsafe limos; and create a hotline and cellphone app to report concerns about a limousine.
“The families are supportive and will continue to work towards our desired goals,” said Nancy DiMonte of East Northport. Her daughter, Joelle, 29, was seriously injured in the July 2015 crash in Cutchogue during a winery tour when the modified Lincoln Town Car in which Joelle and her friends were riding in made a U-turn and was struck broadside by a pickup truck.
The Long Island families of those victims and upstate families who lost relatives to an October 2018 limo crash that left 20 people dead have relentlessly pushed for limo safety laws.
Kevin Cushing, father of Patrick Cushing who died in the Schoharie County crash upstate, also said legislators worked closely with family members.
“They sought our input multiple times and held informational conference calls which included family members of both the Long Island and Schoharie tragedies,” Cushing told Newsday. “The result is well crafted, enforceable safety legislation that will go a very long way in preventing another limousine tragedy of this nature and magnitude.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed similar measures during his State of the State address that sets the year’s legislative agenda. His proposal would include requiring passengers to use seat belts and increased criminal and civil penalties for violations of limo safety laws. He would also eliminate the exemption from these measures by limos that could be categorized as buses.
“I fully expect these 10 bills to move forward for a vote in both houses swiftly, and with the governor’s additional safety proposals announced, I’m confident he’ll do right by these families and sign these critical measures into law," said Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and co-sponsor of many of the proposals.