Federal transportation officials are calling for new safety requirements in limousines, after investigations into several fatal accidents found that lives could have saved if the vehicles were equipped with basic seating and seat belt systems.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued new limousine safety recommendations (PDF) on October 2, calling for passenger restraints and reinforced seating systems to be required on all modified limousine vehicles.
Officials issued the recommendations earlier this month, amid an ongoing investigation into a stretch limousine accident that occurred in in Schoharie, New York last year, which killed the driver, 17 passengers and two pedestrians. According to the announcement, the modified 2001 Ford Excursion limousine was coming down a steep stretch of hill and crashed into an unoccupied vehicle before careening into a nearby ravine.
Investigators determined that despite the magnitude of the crash, there was still room for survival had the occupants been wearing seat belts and the bench seats been properly fastened. The report indicates none of the 17 passengers were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, and the after-market restraints that were present in the vehicle were hidden, and deemed inadequate.
Investigators also found the side and rear facing bench seats were not adequately anchored down, causing them both to rip out of the floor and overturn during the crash. The report indicates the original Ford passenger seats in the rear of the vehicle remained attached to the floor and intact.
The NTSB recommendations call for lap or shoulder belts for each passenger seating position on all new vehicles modified for use as a limousine, and to require the seating systems meet the minimum performance standards as consumer vehicles to protect passengers in the event of a crash.
The agency is also calling on the National Limousine Association to educate members on the benefits of proper seat belt use and recommends they make the seat belts visible and accessible to passengers, as well as encourage them to use the safety restraints.
The New York State Department of Transportation is being encouraged to pass legislation that provides for primary enforcement of a mandatory seat belt use law for all vehicle seating positions, including passenger seats in limousines.
The ongoing NTSB investigation into the New York limousine crash is one of three fatal limousine crashes to occur over the last several years. Investigations into the limousine crashes in Elgin, Illinois and Cranbury, New Jersey which all resulted in serious injuries and fatalities, concluded the passengers were not belted at the time of the accident. Investigators and first responders found the safety restraint systems were either not being worn, or were tucked below the seats and out of sight to the passengers.
“It’s disheartening to learn that some passenger vehicles are legally on the road that don’t offer passengers well-designed seats and seat belts,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said in a press release. “All vehicle occupants should have the same level of protection, wherever they are seated. And everyone should use seat belts whenever they are available.”