Are stretch limousines unsafe?

Chrysler 300c stretch limousine
Flickr | Nim Bhharathhan

What started out as a day of birthday celebration in upstate New York on Saturday, Oct. 6 ended tragically after a stretch limousine ran through a stop sign and crashed into an SUV. The crash killed 20 people, including all 17 passengers in the limo, the luxury car driver and two pedestrians nearby. Federal investigators report that this accident is the deadliest U.S. crash in almost a decade, according to the Washington Post.

“Twenty fatalities is just horrific,” National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman Robert Sumwalt told reporters during an Oct. 7 news conference. “This is the most deadly transportation accident in this country since February of 2009.”

The limo was carrying 17 guests of a birthday party, including four sisters, according to the Associated Press.

Many people celebrating special events believe that hiring a limo is the safest option. It means you can avoid driving yourself at a time when you may be impaired by drinking or even just exhaustion. But accidents like this one raise serious questions about the potential dangers inherent in riding these luxury vehicles. What safety risks are there when someone climbs into the back of a stretch limo?

Be Wary Of Converted Vehicles

This isn’t the first serious accident involving stretch limousines. In July 2015, an accident involving a stretch limo in Suffolk County, New York, left four women dead. At the time, CBS News reported that there has been a deadly limo accident every year in this country since at least 2000, leading to at least 68 deaths. One of the biggest culprits? Vehicles that have been converted into stretch limousines, versus those that were originally manufactured as such.

Peter Goelz, former managing director of the NTSB,  told CNN that vehicles with “after-market modifications often affect a vehicle’s structural integrity and safety.”

The New York Times outlined some of the most problematic modifications, which include cutting a car in half and installing plates to extend the floor and the roof. Pillars in the car, running from the ceiling to the floor, are a normal part of conventional cars, creating a structural cage around passengers. But in a stretch limousine, passenger areas are generally not protected by such pillars.

In this case, the limo involved in the Oct. 6 crash appears to have been a converted SUV. Deborah Hersman of the National Safety Council called the inconsistent laws governing these modified limos, “Frankenstein laws for Frankenstein vehicles.

For example, 22 states do not require rear seat limo passengers to wear seat belts. Nor are their airbags in the backs of these vehicles. And with passengers in the rear of the car sitting with their backs to the car doors, there is a great risk for bodily harm if there is a side-impact crash.

Ask For A Safety Record

Not only that, but early details about the Oct. 6 accident reveal that the car involved in the crash “failed inspection last month and that the driver didn’t have appropriate license to operate the vehicle.” Valerie Abeling, the aunt of one of the crash victims, Erin McGowen, told The Washington Post that her daughter (who was not in the car) received a text from her niece about the limo before the party left.

“The vehicle appeared in terrible condition,” Abeling said, recalling the text message her daughter received.

What can you do if you’re looking to rent a limo but want to maximize your safety? Make sure to check a company’s references and safety records, which they’re required to maintain as part of their certification.

In addition, when you rent a limo, make sure to inspect the vehicle thoroughly. If it doesn’t meet a visual inspection, you have the right to refuse the ride and request a new vehicle.

Does this latest news make you think twice about renting a limo?


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About the Author
Marie Rossiter
Marie is a freelance writer and content creator with more than 20 years of experience in journalism. She lives in southwest Ohio with her husband and is almost a full-fledged empty nest mom of two daughters. She loves music, reading, word games, and Walt Disney World. Visit Scripps News to see more of Marie's work.

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