MODESTO, CALIF. — It gets only eight miles to the gallon and can carry 20 teenagers on their way to the high school prom. Would anyone confuse a leather-lined stretch Cadillac Escalade limousine with a yellow school bus? The Hummers, Escalades and other sport-utility stretch limos favored
by students looking to ride in luxury to the prom are so big they're considered school buses under the California state Vehicle Code.
That means drivers need to be fingerprinted, interviewed, background checked and tested, said California Highway Patrol (CHP) School Pupil Safety Officer Melinda Wright, who works in the agency's Modesto office. How many limo drivers have applied for the special license? "None," Wright said. "They've called and they've asked questions, but none of them have pursued it any further than the phone call."
Piedy Callahan, administrator of student and community activities at Johansen High School in Modesto, said she checked with the CHP after receiving a call from a parent about hiring a limo for the prom. "I'm kind of interested to see what's going to happen in May," she said. "Sounds like the kids are still getting them anyway."
Dashaun Winston, owner of City Lights Limousine in Modesto, said the Vehicle Code wasn't a problem when students wanted limousines such as the Lincoln Town Car stretch, which seats eight people. The special license applies to a vehicle that can hold more than nine passengers on the way to a school-sponsored event at a public or private school. The limousine company also must be registered with the school or school district.
"That used to be what the kids wanted; now it's the last thing to go," Winston said, referring to the standard stretch limos. These days, Winston said, high school students easily shell out $1,400 for a stretch Escalade or Hummer for the night.
Winston said except for the notice from the CHP or the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the limousine industry, many of his colleagues are continuing "business as normal."
"Some officers told us, 'We don't have time to chase limousines down,'" he said. "Maybe next year by prom time, the CHP will have it ironed out."
Winston said he would rather his son ride in an Escalade stretch limo than drive with friends. "These kids are going to prom and they won't be drinking and driving," he said. Winston's vehicles each have $5 million worth of liability insurance, he said.
Debby Bear, owner of At Your Service Limousine in Manteca, has a 10-passenger Ford Excursion limousine that students can rent for the prom. As a school bus driver for the Manteca Unified School District during the day, Bear has all her bases covered.
Source: Modesto Bee