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Fun Ride in a Limo, but what are the Safety Issues?

Are limousine rides safe?A recent article in the New York Times covers an incident of a stretch limousine crash that resulted in the death of four people. What the article really discusses though is the lack of safety features in stretch limos. This was an eye-opener for me, and something I thought would be worth sharing.

A stretch limo is created by taking an ordinary car cutting it in half, and placing plates to extend the roof and floor. What’s missing is the normal “structural cage” of the car, or the pillars running from the ceiling and flooring, which protect passengers. Then the seats are reconfigured in stretch limos, which changes the outcome of a side-impact crash.

The pickup truck that struck the limo mentioned above, hit the limo broadside. According to an engineer with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety this couldn’t have been a worse place to hit a limo. He said, “it hit the most vulnerable spot.” At the spot hit there is no structure, according to the engineer.

The article mentioned that in regular passenger cars, federal standards require curtain airbags to be activated in the case of a collision from the side. You don’t have that in a stretch limo. The engineer mentions that even if you put an airbag in, he was unaware of any airbag big enough to install along the sides of a stretch limo.

Importantly stated in the article is that only the car created by the manufacturer has to meet federal safety standards. After the car has been bought, “the new owner can modify it into a stretch limo without having to show that it is crashworthy.”

Seat Belt Regulations

Additionally, stretch limos are exempted from federal seat belt regulations because of their banquette seating, not forward facing, according to safety experts. For more about this, read an op-ed from the New York Times on the dangers of partying in a stretch limo.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed that large motor coaches (large passenger buses) be equipped with seatbelts for passengers. However, I was unable to find anything regarding proposals for seatbelts for limos. Why is it that, when limos are modified and motor coaches are not? The reason the NHTSA recommends seatbelts for motor coaches is that they reduce the risk of ejection, and about 78% of the fatalities in motor coach rollover crashes are the result of being ejected from the vehicle. This concerns me, because ejection can happen in a stretch limo as well.

What’s to be done?

Limousine companies promise to heighten driver standards, but is that really the issue? A limo driver could be driving safely, but what about the other drivers on the road? The bigger issue here appears to be the structure of the limo, not the driver. If we can’t hold the manufacturer of the limo accountable for a design that leaves open structural deficiencies to be unfortunately exploited in a crash, how are we protecting ourselves? We often use limos as a means of transportation to safely travel from location to location when an activity like drinking is involved. I hope that changes can be made to ensure limos will be safer for those using them.

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