On October 6, 2018, in Schoharie, New York, a stretch limousine carrying 17 passengers, who were celebrating a birthday party, failed to stop at the intersection of New York state routes 30 and 30A and crashed into a parked SUV, killing two bystanders. The limousine driver also died in the crash along with the passengers, bringing the total death toll to 20. It was one of the most horrific traffic accidents to have occurred in the State and led to a scrutiny of the laws and guidelines governing the TLC (Taxi and Limousine Commission).
The crash was caused by brake system failure due to inadequate maintenance by the limousine company, Prestige Limousine and Chauffeur Service. The company had disregarded an out-of-service order issued by the state after the vehicle failed two inspections. The driver also lacked the proper license endorsement to operate the vehicle, which had been modified to seat more passengers than it was certified for.
The operator of the company, Nauman Hussain, was arrested and charged with 20 counts each of criminally negligent homicide and second-degree manslaughter. He initially pleaded guilty to the charges of criminally negligent homicide in September 2021, but withdrew his plea at his sentencing in August 2022 after the judge insisted on some prison time. His trial began in May 2023.
Governor Hochul took note of the need to review and strengthen the guidelines and regulations pertaining to passengers’ safety. The Passenger Safety Task Force was originally established in 2020 along with more than 20 statutory reforms as a response to the tragic limousine crashes in Schoharie and a similar one in Cutchogue, Hochul said.
In the fall of 2022, the Task Force released its report, including recommendations that require both administrative and legislative changes. Now Hochul is moving them forward.
The Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles have made significant progress administratively, Hochul said, including overhauling the vehicle registration and change of ownership process, increasing the number of reviews of limousines, increasing the level of coordination between states, and increasing enforcement actions against those who fraudulently register and operate limousines.
According to Hochul, the Stretch Limousine Passenger Safety Act will address the legislative recommendations of the task force, including:
- Requiring a minimum $10,000 fine for operating a suspended stretch limousine, and authorizing the Department of Transportation to collaborate with law enforcement to seize license plates of offenders driving passenger vehicles subject to their jurisdiction.
- Requiring that stretch limousines be equipped with enhanced safety features including window break tools, fire extinguishers, improved emergency egress, and roll-over protection.
- Prohibiting the operation of a stretch limousine that is more than 10 years old or has milage exceeding 350,000 miles, whichever occurs first.
- Improving data availability on limousine operators.
- Mandating that all stretch limousine passengers be given a pre-trip safety briefing.
New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner and co-chair of the Stretch Limousine Passenger Safety Task Force Mark J.F. Schroeder reflected: “We have an unwavering commitment to prevent another tragedy like those that led to the formation of the task force, and I commend Governor Hochul for taking action to advance the task force’s recommendations that will build on the work we have done to further protect New Yorkers. Thanks to the Governor’s leadership and the ongoing collaboration of the DMV and DOT, we have been able to get dangerous vehicles off the road and this bill will enable us to do more to ensure the safety of everyone who uses or encounters a stretched limo on our roads.”
Nancy DiMonte, whose daughter Joelle survived the Cutchogue crash, was on the task force.
While she is grateful that some of the issues have been addressed, she believes that there is more to be done to ensure that a similar horrific accident does not devastate more families.
“While the task force has done its due diligence, the members of the task force, the New York State legislature, and many citizens firmly believe that this task force and the extension of it, is essential for the safety of New Yorkers when hiring a vehicle for transport,” she said. “The roads in the state and on Long Island are substandard and the for-hire industry needs strict guidelines and adherence of those put forth. The task force was implemented to improve conditions in these vehicles, thereby preventing further injuries and fatalities. Safer vehicles further help ensure the navigation of the roads.”