By Desiree D’Iorio and Karina Gerry
Senator Charles Schumer met with LABS members, a group of limousine law reformers, in Great Neck calling for a federal licensing crackdown on stretch limo drivers during a press conferenceThursday.
The families of the eight Long Island victims of the Cutchogue limo crash in 2015 have been lobbying for stricter regulations with a movement called LABS, an acronym for the four women who lost their lives – Lauren Baruch, Amy Grabina, Brittney Schulman and Stephanie Belli.
“All other vehicles have to go through strict federal standards as far as safety concerns, and it seems they fall by the wayside as far as limousines,” Schulman, Brittney Schulman’s father, said. “We want them to have to adhere to safety standards as with all other vehicles.”
The LABS movement has been calling for a comprehensive driver training program and commercial licensing for stretch limousine drivers, and for the limousines themselves to be held to the same federal safety standards as other commercial vehicles. Approximately 7,000 people have signed the online petition, LABS founder Paul Schulman said.
“Right now there’s a law on the books that says that if your vehicle carries more than nine people, you need a special commercial driver’s license,” Schumer said during the press conference. “But in cases like this, where the limo has been stretched [after market], no one’s looking at them and the [commercial] license requirement is never enforced.” He said stretch limousines can skirt federal safety regulations because of a loophole in licensing requirements.
The Oct. 6 limousine crash that killed 20 people in Schoharie, N.Y. has refueled the LABS movement’s lobbying efforts.
“I read about the upstate crash where 20 lives were wasted and I became frustrated and angry, since we – the eight families of the Cutchogue crash – have been begging our officials for change,” Nancy Dimonte, LABS member and mother of one of the survivors, said. “There is very little regulation with limousine safety.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would be responsible for any license enforcement measures. They did not respond to a request for comment.
If the FMCSA agrees to launch a formal license crackdown, local industry professionals seem to be on board.
“Every driver who drives these vehicles should have proper training and the proper license,” Penny Casey, president of the Long Island Limousine Association, said. “We are in support of that.” LILA represents 66 limo companies.
Both Schumer and the LABS movement called for the National Transportation Safety Board to conduct a formal investigation into the 2015 crash to develop new federal limousine safety guidelines. It never happened.
“We don’t investigate every accident,” Eric Weiss, NTSB spokesperson, said. “There’s many accidents in the U.S. each year and we can only investigate a handful of them. We only have about 16 investigators.” Weiss said that the NTSB’s current investigation into the Schoharie crash is still ongoing.
But a special Suffolk County grand jury spent a year investigating the crash and issued several recommendations that were never enacted despite efforts in Albany, like Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo’s bill to prohibit limos from making U-turns, and Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre’s bill to increase required insurance limits.
Jean-Pierre’s bill couldn’t get out of committee or attract a Senate sponsor, Brendan Cunningham, Chief of Staff, said. “We’re currently strategizing how to bring it up next session to see what’s the best route to go to get approval in both chambers,” Cunningham said about the upcoming January legislative session.
For now, Dimonte said the Schoharie families need time to grieve, but she hopes they will eventually join the LABS movement. “There’s strength in numbers. Maybe we can join together to make these laws happen. It’s three years too late.”