Stretch Crash: Media Mangles The Safety Angle — Again

Posted on July 23, 2015 by - Also by this author

A reputable coachbuilder will design and fabricate the best stretch frame possible.
A reputable coachbuilder will design and fabricate the best stretch frame possible.

By now the entire limousine industry knows about the dreadful fatal stretch limousine T-bone crash on Long Island, N.Y., last weekend that killed four women. Our sympathies, condolences, thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the deceased and to the injured.

The tragedy evokes still raw memories of the fatal stretch limousine fire near San Francisco in May 2013 that killed five women, also on a leisure outing.

While the two fatal accidents involve starkly different circumstances, the fallout in both cases includes misinformed media reporting about stretch limousine safety fueled by emotions. Here we go again: The limousine industry must set the record straight with a massive fact injection.

Specifically, comments in a recent ABC New York Channel 7 article and video about stretch construction missed the mark, and unfortunately have created a firestorm of inaccuracies. I spoke with a veteran limousine coachbuilder today who offered some corrections to the irresponsible comments.

Before I get to those points, I want to reaffirm that the limousine company involved in the crash is a reputable operation with high customer service standards and an impeccable safety record. I won’t name the company or the operator in this blog, as he is going through a hellish experience, but many of us know and respect him. He deserves our collective support and sympathy. Since the accident investigation is ongoing, we don’t know and shouldn’t speculate on the possible results.

According to my source, and based on what I’ve learned so far writing about the limousine industry in detail, here is some perspective on stretch design and safety. [My source asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely on a controversial subject].

  • There ARE safety standards for stretch limousine construction. As I wrote in the months after the stretch limousine fire, Ford/Lincoln and GM/Cadillac have had programs in place for years that ensure coachbuilders cut and stretch limousines to safety specs. Lincoln’s Qualified Vehicle Modifiers program (QVM) and Cadillac’s Master Coachbuilder program (CMC) require different chassis, more durable parts, and OEM-complaint manufacturing standards and processes. LCT ARTICLE HERE. [The Lincoln Town Car stretch limousine involved in the Long Island crash is QVM, LCT has learned].
  • As my source pointed out, even if a coachbuilder is not QVM- or CMC-certified, it doesn’t mean the stretch limousine isn’t strong or safe. I’ve visited enough non-QVM or CMC coachbuilders that meet or exceed OEM standards all on their own. I once stood next to one limousine manufacturing CEO, who, while showing me a stretch under construction on his factory floor, traced a steal side beam with his finger that had just been mounted onto the stretched frame. Reputable coachbuilders know that a quality built stretch is the best approach for more business.
  • I know of at least one former longtime limousine stretch manufacturer that front- and side-crash tested stretch limousines to ensure maximum safety. OEMs also crash test all of their vehicles, whether for retail or commercial use, according to Federal Motor Vehicles Safety Standards (FMVSS).
  • More steel beams do not necessarily add up to a more crash-resistant, safer stretch. It’s all about pillars, beams, joints and how the frame is constructed, arranged, fused and balanced, my source tells me. Vehicles are designed to collapse and absorb impacts in order to protect passenger cabins. There is no correct number of steel side beams for a stretch limousine.
  • After a certain speed level, no vehicle can be crash proof, otherwise no one would ever die in a vehicle accident my source tells me.
Probably the only T-bone proof limousine in the world.
Probably the only T-bone proof limousine in the world.

On that last point, I’d like to pose a few common sense questions to ponder:

  1. Was it the fault of Mercedes-Benz when Princess Diana died in an S600 sedan in the August 1997 crash in a Paris tunnel?
  2. Do you blame Boeing or Airbus for not making a stronger airliner following a rare crash from 30,000 plus feet?
  3. Should every stretch limousine now be built to the specs of the Presidential limousine, at crippling costs?
  4. It’s interesting to note that on the same weekend of the fatal Long Island stretch crash, another stretch limousine was struck by a freight train. The limousine got stuck crossing a railroad track in Indiana, but everyone got out well before the train came along, which could not stop. This link to the video tells the story. So, had this train crash involved fatalities, would certain “experts” be decrying the structural safety of the stretch?

That brings me to the main point restated by my source, which should be obvious even to misinformed, sensational reporters: Speed and tonnage kill.

Here’s the challenge for the industry: How well does the public know the stretch limo facts that my source explained? How can the industry better educate and reassure retail limousine customers?

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