A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward
A number of issues have been under discussion in the closing days of the legislative session. Several are contentious and spark fierce debate at the Capitol while others are commonsense measures that received unanimous or near-unanimous approval. The latter describes a comprehensive package of bills recently adopted by the Senate to improve safety for limousine passengers.
When individuals step into a limousine or similar vehicle there is an expectation of safety. Tragically, on October 6, 2018, that was not the case. A deadly limousine crash that occurred in Schoharie County in my senate district claimed twenty innocent lives. The crash also shed a light on several disturbing trends that need to be addressed. The comprehensive package of bills approved by the Senate is a step in the right direction. We owe it to the victims and their families to take action to help prevent future tragedies.
Following the crash in Schoharie, I spent time meeting with family members of victims, emergency responders who were called to the scene, and investigators who have been tasked with making some sense of what occurred. The consensus from all was that we needed to enforce our current laws and make meaningful revisions to truly improve limousine safety on our highways. These bills are a direct result of courageous input from people who know unimaginable grief and pain.
The nine bills approved by the Senate are designed to increase the overall safety of limousines and other for-hire vehicles. The measures will increase insurance requirements for limousines, ensure drivers undergo drug and alcohol testing and create a state hotline allowing the public to report safety concerns. These are all steps that can help make highways safer and ensure that when people hire someone to drive them that they will reach their destination without harm.
The Senate bills adopted include:
S.5329 – requiring additional insurance limits for certain for-hire vehicles;
S.6185 – creates a state hotline, website, and phone app for public reporting of limousine safety concerns;
S.6186 – relates to drug and alcohol testing for for-hire vehicle drivers;
S.6187 – requires stretch limousines to use global positioning system (GPS) technology;
S.6188 – relates to the increased punishment for certain traffic infractions committed by limousine operators including making a U-turn on a public highway, running a red light, or speeding;
S.6189 – establishes a passenger safety task force to study issues related to the safety of passengers transported by stretch limousines. The panel would explore a number of topics related to passenger safety and conduct at least one public forum before issuing recommendations;
S.6191 – requires safety belts, roll-over-protection devices, and push out windows for limousines;
S.6192 – requires limousine drivers to hold a commercial driver’s license;
S.6193 – allows the commissioner of the Department of Transportation to immobilize or impound a limousine with an out of service defect or a non-working horn.
Along with addressing wide-ranging limousine safety issues, I am continuing to discuss the need for highway improvements in Schoharie at the site of the deadly limousine crash.
As I said at the start of this column, these are commonsense measures; however, there is still work to be done before these bills become law.
The legislation passed by the state Senate must be approved by the state assembly and signed by the governor to take effect. The legislative session is drawing to a close and it is unclear if the assembly will act on these bills.
We should not be waiting for another tragedy – action is needed now. I am hopeful that the assembly will not leave Albany without getting the job done.