Here in Maryland, it’s homecoming season. I have three teenagers. Plans are being made for “the ask” (the over-the-top production of how one goes about asking their chosen date to attend) “the dress”, (self-explanatory) and “the ride” (who will have the most memorable limo arrival). All harmless high school fun, right? And the limo, while it may be pompous, does hold a certain “well, at least they won’t be driving” attraction for us worried parents, right? Maybe not.
As the October 6th limo crash in New York recently showed us, these luxury vehicles with potentially untrained drivers may pose more of a risk to our kids than we think. By now, we all have read how the super-stretch Ford Excursion involved in last week’s accident had failed a safety inspection, and was being operated by an inexperienced driver. But, let’s not lose sight of the fact that these cars and trucks are modified versions production cars – modifications which often remove the built-in safety features that protect the occupants in the event of a crash.
Take a look at the photo above. This is the aftermath of a 2015 limo crash that killed four of the eight women riding inside. The women had made the “safe choice”. They rented the limo to take a winery tour so that none of them would have to drive after drinking alcohol. However, because the car’s safety features had been modified out, a side collision at an intersection turned into a deadly crash.
To make a stretch limousine, the pillars that normally form a structural cage around the passenger compartment are often removed. Additionally, the seats in stretch limousines are reconfigured to allow for side seating. Therefore, the ordinary principles of protection from side-impact crashes do not apply. A passenger sitting with their back to the door on one side takes a side impact from the rear. And the person facing them takes the collision head-on. Often, there are no seat belts and no side curtain airbags – two safety features proves to save lives and reduce serious injuries.
So, how do we limousine companies get away with it? We start with a vehicle that had to pass a strict regulatory scheme designed to reduce highway deaths: —working seatbelts, airbags, and proof the vehicles can continue to protect passengers in at least some collisions. But once it’s bought by a limousine company, the new owner can modify it into a stretch limo without having to show that it is crashworthy, putting the lives of all passengers (even our children) at serious risk. .
As a personal injury attorney, I see too many tragedies that could have been avoided. To me, this one seems easy. Only choose a reputable car service that uses unmodified vehicles. For large groups that want to travel together, use a company that provides buses with forward facing seats and seat belts. It may not be as “flashy”, but it sure beats the alternative.
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