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Get tough on stretch-limo safety

Five people were treated for nonlife-threatening injuries after

Five people were treated for nonlife-threatening injuries after a collision in Middle Island involving three vehicles, including a bus with handicapped passengers, police said. (March 2, 2012) Credit: Christopher Sabella

In 1987, a young bride, her groom and his brother were killed in Lido Beach when a stretch limousine taking them from the service to the reception was struck in the side by a speeding Buick. Three other members of the wedding party were hurt. The tragic accident is still a sharp recollection for many Long Islanders.

For some, that memory likely came flooding back in July when a pickup truck struck the side of a stretch limousine attempting a U-turn in Cutchogue, killing four of the eight passengers. They were young women out to have a good time in the vineyards of the North Fork, avoiding drunken driving by hiring a professional driver and luxury vehicle.

Many of us hire these stretch limos for weddings, parties, special occasions and proms. Often we do it for safety, for ourselves and our loved ones. But is that big limo you're hiring safe?

It's very hard to say. And that has to change.

While there are safety regulations on vehicle manufacturing that are well enforced, there is far less regulation and oversight of how vehicles are modified after they leave the factory. Stretch limos are most often conventional limousines that have been altered by aftermarket companies, sometimes dangerously. Critics say these modifications can weaken the frames of the vehicles, reducing their ability to absorb crash impacts safely, and block exits.

Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to study stretch limo crashes in the same way it does train and plane accidents, which is a good idea, as are crash tests to determine how stretch limos need to be constructed to be safe.

Once standards are determined, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must ensure they are enforced, and that modified limos we use to keep our celebrations safe can be used reliably.

After July's accident, many questions remain about drinking and speed on the part of the driver whose truck struck the limo, as well as about the decision of the limo driver to make a difficult U-turn.

But there's also a broader question about limo safety, and it's one that Long Islanders reasonably might have hoped would be answered for good in 1987.


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