Families of Schoharie limousine crash victims react to new federal limousine safety regulations

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WASHINGTON (NEWS10) — On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Moving Forward Act.” It addresses the country’s infrastructure and transportation system. Included in the $1.5 trillion package, are several new limousine safety regulations. 

Ahead of Wednesday’s House vote, two local congressmen, who sponsored some of the measures, held a telephone press conference. Representative Paul Tonko and Representative Antonio Delgado also invited the families of the victims from both the 2018 Schoharie limousine crash that killed 20 people and the 2015 Cutchogue limo crash, down on Long Island, which claimed the lives of four young women. 

The congressmen said the federal bills include a full slate of limousine safety standards that they said would ensure limousines no longer slip through the regulatory cracks. Congressman Tonko sponsored a measure called “The Take Unsafe Limos Off the Road Act,” which would provide funding to allow states to impound or immobilize vehicles that fail inspection.

Janet Steenburg, the mother of Axel and Rich Steenburg, and the mother-in-law of Amy Steenburg, told NEWS10 ABC, while all of the measures are equally important, taking unsafe limos off the road means the most to her.

“These cars are just put on the road, and they just run them. Nobody cares, nobody really pays attention to them, and when you rent these things, everybody just piles in and everybody just assumes that they’re safe, and that’s what the kids did when they rented the limo; they just assumed it was safe,” said Steenburg.

Congressman Antonio Delgado sponsored “The End the Limo Loophole Act,” which would redefine a Commercial Motor Vehicle as any vehicle used to transport nine or more people, rather than the current 15, so that critical federal safety rules would apply. 

“So many of these people are not commercially trained, and the vehicles fall through the cracks, and we really believe that is a very, very progressive piece,” said Nancy DiMonte. Her daughter, Joelle, was injured in the July 2015 crash in Cutchogue that claimed the lives of four other girls. 

New York State passed several limo safety bills earlier in the year, and a large part of that effort can be attributed to the families of the victims who have turned their tragedy into advocacy. They said they’re not giving up, which is why they said they now want to see those changes in place across state lines.  

Jill Richardson, the mother of Matthew Coons, one of the Schoharie crash victims, said as parents, they made a promise to their children that their unfortunate incident would not go unnoticed.

“We made a promise that we were going to make a big difference. So we want this difference to go across this country. We don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” said Richardson.

Both congressmen applauded the families for their admirable determination to make a change. The congressmen said they owe the passage to not only the victims and their families, but the first responders who are called to these horrific crashes, too. 

“They put aside their pain, their suffering, their anguish, and their loss to make sure that we as a society are safer,” said Congressman Tonko. 

“It really is inspiring and we’ve got to see this through and I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that happens,” said Congressman Delgado.

Some of the other safety regulations included in the limousine bills focus on seat belts, seat integrity, side impact protection, roof crush resistance, and air bag system protections for all limousine occupants.  The operator would also have to disclose the last date of inspection, the results, and any corrective action taken. 

The 2018 Schoharie crash involved a modified 2001 stretch Ford Excursion and claimed the lives of 20 people: 17 passengers, the driver of the limousine, and two bystanders. The 17 passengers were all under the age of forty. They were headed to a brewery in Cooperstown to celebrate a birthday.

Nauman Hussain, the operator of Prestige Limo, the company that owned the vehicle, faces 20 counts of Criminally Negligent Homicide and 20 counts of Second Degree Manslaughter. 

Prosecutors allege that Hussain is responsible because he knew the limo was not supposed to be on the road after being declared unfit due to several safety violations and mechanical issues, including the brakes. 

Hussain’s defense attorney, Lee Kindlon, told NEWS10 that all parties are scheduled to meet sometime in mid-July to set a new trial date. 

Limo Regulations:

  • Take Unsafe Limos Off the Road Act, sponsored by Tonko, a subcommittee chair in the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, promotes funding to support states’ efforts to impound or immobilize vehicles that fail inspection for critical safety reasons. The act will incentivize states such as New York to take strong actions to keep unsafe limos that fail inspection off the road.
  • Safe Limousines Act, also sponsored by Tonko, includes a full slate of new federal stretch limousine safety rules and standards for seatbelts, seat integrity, a federal definition for limousines and crash safety research
  • End the Limo Loophole Act, sponsored by Rep. Antonio Delgado, a member of the House Committee on Transportation closes the “limousine loophole” by reclassifying vehicles used to carry nine or more passengers as commercial motor vehicles. Current law only classifies vehicles designed for 15 or more passengers in this way, allowing many limousines to operate under less rigorous standards.

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