HARTFORD, Conn. – See that stretch Hummer full of prom guests? Notice the New York or Massachusetts plates? Chances are fairly good you're looking at an unwelcome guest, a stealth visitor that just might be committing a crime in Connecticut.
Connecticut's Department of Transportation has outlawed the registration of or intrastate use of extra-long Hummers since 2004, citing the manufacturer's recommendation against stretching them. But that hasn't prevented limo operators from registering them out of state, then playing a cat-and-mouse game with DOT inspectors.
Robert Colucci, supervising special investigator with the DOT, describes this little game as "a crapshoot." He says, "The fine is $500 for a first offense, and since it's a spot-check deal their odds of running into our team are minimal. If they do get caught, it's a cost of doing business, because they make $2,500 to $3,000 on these trips."
The law makes some odd distinctions: If the trip includes a state border — such as a journey into Manhattan to see a show — it's out of the DOT's jurisdiction. But if the whole voyage was within Connecticut, state law is being broken.
According to one Hartford-area limo operator, "The stretch Hummers are overweight and illegal if they're carrying more than eight passengers. The DOT recently caught up with one of these cars at a Branford prom and took the driver out of it. The kids had to find another way home."
Colucci, based in Newington, confirmed that "the ride's over" if the inspection team catches up with an illegal Hummer, but no citations have yet been issued this year. (There were 65 in 2004, when the DOT actually arranged sting operations to catch illegal drivers.)
Despite the state prohibition, a spokesman for a Greenwich-area limo service said his company operates a record eight stretch Hummers, more than it's ever had, and business remains brisk. The most opulent are stretched a gigantic 220 inches.
For proms and weddings, the stretch limousine was once the ultimate status symbol. But after the H2 Hummer blundered its macho way into American hearts in 2003, the standard stretch was soon outclassed. Somebody had the bright idea of stretching an H2 to 28 feet, and soon this 22-passenger vehicle was the cool choice.
A 200-inch stretch — that's 16-plus feet added between the axles — yields a vehicle that could hardly be expected to go off road, let alone tackle a speed bump. Typical luxury amenities include a flat-screen monitor and a DVD player, a high-end stereo, lava lamps, a fake fireplace, mirrored ceilings, strobe and laser lights, a bar and smoke machines. In this form, the stretch Hummer gets fewer than eight miles per gallon.
The marriage of the H2, the country's most popular urban assault vehicle, and the formal limousine took the livery business by storm, especially for young partygoers steeped in Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and desert war footage. They were soon involved in a war of their own, including a wild shooting melee in Cincinnati (inside the Hummer) and another involving a Los Angeles birthday party. A New York dealer says he got a call from Kiss, but the group ended up renting a limo with a hot tub instead.
"They're still renting stretch Hummers," the Greenwich spokesman said. "People are looking for an exotic car." And maybe a chance to dodge the DOT.
Source: Fairfield Weekly News