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Limousines: Should Style Come Before Safety?

On October 6, a stretch limousine got into a fatal crash in upstate New York. The limo in question had failed its latest state-required safety inspection, and its driver didn’t have a license to drive the extra-long vehicle. Because of this accident, all 18 people in the limo died along with two pedestrians who were unfortunately close to the scene. The accident is one of the all-time worst automobile crashes in the United States, and the country hasn’t seen a transportation accident of any kind this bad since a plane crash in 2009.

There’s no doubt that the accident was tragic, but there’s also no doubt that it was avoidable. It’s clear enough that the limo company, Prestige Limousine, wasn’t following regulations like it should have, and that fact is very likely the cause of the accident. However, part of the problem may have been with the design of the limo itself.

What Makes A Limousine

There are very few companies out there that build limousines from the ground up. They’re specialty, luxury vehicles that often come with extensively customized interiors or else get sold to rental services. Instead, what you usually see is companies that buy ordinary high-end vehicles like full-size sedans and SUVs, cut them in half, and then weld in more space between the two axles. In the case of the fatal crash, the original vehicle was a Ford Excursion.

Because of this process, two important things happen. First, the refurbishing company that cuts the vehicle in half has to remove a lot of the original interior, which can include seats, seat belts, and airbags. Cars sold as new have to have this safety equipment, but rebuilt cars like limousines can get around these restrictions and don’t have to replace them. On top of that, the extra weight and length of the stretch section makes limousines harder to drive and strains the suspension. Most limos have their suspensions beefed up because of this, but they still need constant inspections.

Who Is Responsible For Regulations?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, is the federal regulator in charge of setting regulations on vehicles and making sure companies stick to them. However, their authority ends once someone buys a vehicle: after that, it’s up to state regulators and state laws to decide what’s street-legal and what needs to stay off the roads.

For instance, while the NHTSA requires cars and SUVs to have seat belts for the driver and every passenger position, almost half the states don’t require backseat passengers to buckle up. This means that if a limo company got rid of these seat belts and didn’t replace them, it could still potentially be street-legal. On the other hand, a company that removes safety features without replacing them could still get hit with a lawsuit for negligence if the limo crashes and those features would have come in handy.

Are Limos Worth The Risk?

Limousines are dangerous vehicles because they go through big modifications to add luxury and space and not to add safety. The extra length makes them much harder to drive, which is why you normally need a commercial license of some kind to drive them. But at the same time it’s fun to ride around in a limo, and owning one is still a popular status symbol.

Stretch limos are legal to drive on the street, but they’re also much harder to drive than a regular vehicle and much more dangerous thanks to all of the removed or altered safety equipment. The crash in upstate New York was likely caused by the limo company and its driver refusing to follow regulations, but the fact is that a smaller vehicle could have avoided the accident and certainly wouldn’t have had 17 passengers in it. So the next time you think about renting a limo for a prom date or a honeymoon celebration, spare a thought about your safety.