People

L&C Interview: NHTSA’S Robert Hellmuth

Posted on May 1, 1989 by LCT Interview

The inevitable has finally happened ... the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched an industry-wide probe to determine how well stretch limousines stand up to the government’s 49 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). For the past several months, coachbuilders have been receiving letters from NHTSA asking for certification that their limousine conversions comply with federal standards concerning brakes, wheels and tires, fuel lines, vehicle labels, window tinting, and the effect of front impact on a vehicle’s steering column.

Limousine & Chauffeur editor and publisher Scott Fletcher recently discussed the NHTSA investigation with Robert F. Hellmuth, director of NHTSA’s Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance in Washington, DC. In the following interview, Hellmuth explains why the coachbuilding industry is being investigated. Hellmuth also outlines how the investigation is being conducted and comments on possible ramifications for the limousine industry. . .

L&C: Stretch limousines have been around for 20 years or so and it’s perceived that, all of a sudden, the federal government is interested in these vehicles. Has a problem been recognized or was regulation simply inevitable?

Hellmuth: The truth of the matter is we’ve always regulated the industry whether there’s been overt regulation or not. We’ve always been involved in all vehicles. We have a gentleman who has worked with limousine manufacturers over the years, as well as trailer manufacturers. It’s true that there probably hasn’t been as much focus on the limousine industry as on other industries, but I think everybody in the industry I’ve talked to indicates that the industry has really taken off in the last four or five years.

Robert Hellmuth
Robert Hellmuth
Prior to that, there were very few manufacturers and the number of units built wasn’t that great. But now, in the last several years, it’s become a very visible industry. You see limousines wherever you go. And I think there has been a recognition that the industry seems to be either ignoring us completely, or is going beyond the bounds of common sense and reason. It doesn’t take too much of an observer to see what has happened to the limousine. Where there used to be a kind of common sense limousine that was stretched 40-, 50-, or 60-inches. . .You go out in the street now and you see 100-inch stretches, 120-inch stretches. You start seeing Jacuzzis. I haven’t seen any stone fireplaces in them yet but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if somebody was out there building them. I think there came a recognition that it was finally time to start focusing on this industry.

L&C: A public recognition?

 

Hellmuth: There’s not only a public recognition; we have received a number of letters from the public and state organizations over the past year. And also a recognition within the agency here. We go to car shows. We like to see what’s new in the industry, and it doesn’t take you an awful lot of time to find out when you go to an auto show and see a limousine stretched 120 inches, and you find there’s no certification label alongside the original manufacturer’s certification label. You start seeing some of the components put inside the vehicle, and whether or not they have seat belts. You see that some of these people aren’t paying attention to us. So you start wondering, “Does the industry even know we exist? Does the industry pay any attention to safety standards? Do they rely strictly on the original manufacturer’s certification?” Those are the kinds of questions we start asking ourselves.

L&C: Is there tangible evidence that limousines are unsafe?

Hellmuth: Well, if you recall, there was an incident, I think it was up in New York about a year ago, where a limousine was hit broadside and spewed people all over the place. Things like that start getting people’s attention and there have been some concerns voiced about how safe limousines are. The things that we look at are, when a limousine is stretched so long, there has to be some weight penalty. You don’t just add ten feet to a vehicle without adding weight to it. There are so many vehicle safety standards that are affected severely by weight.

The brake standards, for example. Brakes are designed with the thought that a vehicle is going to weigh a certain amount. If you add another 2,000 pounds, it’s probably not going to meet the braking standards. You have all that weight behind you. If you run a 204 test and bash it into a wall to see how far the steering column comes back, it’s going to crush a lot more because of all that weight crushing it into the wall. What about the suspension? The suspension of those vehicles was designed for such and such a weight. The wheels and tires were designed for such and such a weight. Now you’ve added all this extra weight. What happens to the wheels and tires? What about the spindles? What about the bearings and all the other weight- related things?

Same with the interior. When a manufacturer designs the car, they make certain their upholstery material meets the 302 flammability standards. That means it can’t burn beyond a certain rate per minute when tested a certain way. I’m not sure anybody in the limousine industry knows what the 302 is or if they test for that. That’s the kind of thing we’re looking into. Some limousines have no seatbelts. According to the safety standards, you have to have seatbelts in every position except jumpseats. So it certainly looks to us like the limousine industry is ripe to be reviewed.

L&C: Your suspicion is that the cars are unsafe?

Hellmuth: I guess you’d say this is a law enforcement proceeding right now. We are in the information gathering stage. We have not made any accusations. In fact, we can’t tell you what we’re going to do or how it’s going to come out. I think you can see what our concerns are.

L&C: What’s involved with information gathering?

Hellmuth: Well, we have written to 57 manufacturers and asked a few simple questions such as... How do you certify to the brake standards? How do you certify to the 204 standard? How do you certify to the wheel and tire standards? The simple things that are primarily weight-related. We haven’t even gotten to flammability and all the other things that could be involved. This is like the first cut at it. One question is, are you registered as a manufacturer? A lot of them aren’t. According to our regulations, if you’re building these cars, you’ve got to let us know. A lot of people haven’t done that. Are you certifying these vehicles? A lot of people haven’t done that. There’s an awful lot of either ignorance of us or a refusal to abide by the regulations. That’s what we’re trying to find out.

In addition to asking the limousine manufacturers, we’ve also written to General Motors and Ford. We said, “You’re building these things. Do you know what these guys are doing to them? If so, do you provide guidelines to these converters. How far can they go? When does your warranty cut off? When does the certification on the original vehicle run out? How much weight can they put in these things? Have you done work with them?” These are the kind of questions General Motors and Ford are now answering.

L&C: What kind of response have you gotten to these letters?

Hellmuth: Poor: So far we have gotten very little positive information. The interesting thing is that the gross vehicle weight is established by General Motors and Ford. That is based on the weight of the vehicle with all of the accessories such as air conditioning, and 150 pounds per passenger in every seating position, plus 200 pounds luggage weight. If you add up all these things, that is what the vehicle is rated and tested at. If somebody comes along and adds another section to the vehicle, and instead of seating six passengers it now seats eight or nine, and puts a bar in there and a television, and says, “I’m still within the gross vehicle weight. It’s a 6,000-pound gross rating for a Cadillac. . . My vehicle only weighs 5,800 pounds empty.” Well, if you have 5,800 pounds empty, guess what happens if you fill up the gas tank and put 150 pounds in every seating position? Guess what happens if you put 200 pounds in the trunk? You’re way beyond the manufacturer’s vehicle rating.

L&C: So it looks as though limousines exceed the gross vehicle weight?

Hellmuth: That’s what we’re trying to find out. That’s our suspicion, particularly with these larger stretches. There may be some point with a 40-inch stretch or a 50-inch stretch that’s fine. Where everything falls in place. But we’re not going to know that until we get the information from the manufacturers.

L&C: How do you expect manufacturers to go about becoming certified?

Hellmuth: What we have to find out is whether they comply now or not. So far, they haven’t given us any information that shows they do. They may have something they haven’t given us. I don’t know.

L&C: Assuming that this testing is new to some of these people, would it be something they would do independently or would there be a way of coordinating a cooperative test?

Hellmuth: There are a number of ways it could happen. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Cadillac or Lincoln would conduct testing in conjunction with the manufacturers. Cadillac and Lincoln have a vested interest in selling vehicles to this industry. That’s a possibility. We don’t know whether this may have already happened. Manufacturers can conduct their own tests. There are a number of testing laboratories available.

They can use the laboratories we use or find their own. We don’t have our own facilities as such. We contract with laboratories that assist us. They can smash a car just as easily as we can, or whatever it takes to certify the vehicle. But we feel it’s time that the industry clean up its act. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we might buy some of these cars our self and smash them into walls or do the things that are necessary like run the brake tests.

L&C: What are the main areas you are looking at initially?

Hellmuth: The things we asked for in our letter are the 105 standard and the 204 standard. That’s our initial look but I certainly think it’s going to blossom out beyond that. The tinted window standard is something that our office of chief counsel is handling independently. That is part of our glazing standard. They are taking the lead on that because there are other matters involved. That is certainly an area of apparent non-compliance. There are 49 safety standards, some of which apply to limousines and some of which do not. I would have to say very candidly that the manufacturers I’ve talked to profess a complete ignorance of many of the safety standards. The Code of Federal Regulations should be their Bible. These are all of the standards that a manufacturer has to abide by. I doubt there are many people in the industry who have even seen this book.

L&C: What kind of penalties are involved?

Hellmuth: Well, that’s another question. There’s a possibility of a $1,000 fine per violation with a maximum of $800,000. If a vehicle violates five standards, that’s $5,000.

L&C: Retroactive as long as you’ve been building?

Hellmuth: That’s right — for vehicles built after 1968. It can be modified depending on the circumstances. If a manufacturer has made a good faith effort to certify a vehicle, that’s something our legal department takes into consideration when assessing civil penalties.

L&C: Do you expect to see a length limitation like Cadillac’s guideline of 62 inches?

Hellmuth: That’s possible. If a limousine can be 62 inches long and meet the brake standards and so on, that’s line. But I think you’ll probably find that Cadillac and Lincoln are queasy about these extra long limousines. From what I understand, the insurance industry is becoming very queasy about them too. The same pattern occurred in the recreational vehicle industry. Vehicles became progressively longer so that they grossly exceeded weight capacities. You start having fires caused by bearings overheating, wheels coming off, engines blowing up, suspensions going to pot, and that kind of thing.

L&C: There are a lot of limousines on the road. What do you do about that?

Hellmuth: There are several ways to correct non-compliance or safety defects. There are two different situations here, not only the noncompliance with standards but other problems with safety-related defects. Both of those could result in a safety recall campaign. There are three ways to correct it: You can buy it back; you can repair the problem; or you can replace the vehicle. As far as I can remember, there was only one instance where a manufacturer bought back vehicles and that was Fiat years ago. They were so bad they couldn’t be repaired. But that’s certainly within the provisions of the act.

L&C: How does a recall actually happen?

Hellmuth: The recall process has two steps: The first is public notification. Manufacturers are supposed to keep lists of who bought their vehicles. There is a record-keeping requirement. They have to send letters of notification to the buyers of their vehicles saying, “We have determined there is a safety defect or noncompliance or whatever, and here’s what you can do to correct it....”

The second part is the correction thereof, which is a different ball of wax. Can you correct the problem by putting different brake pads on, for example? Can we correct this problem by putting different suspension on it or stronger wheels and tires? It’s the individual manufacturer’s responsibility to determine what the recall action is going to be. Of course, we will look over his shoulder to make sure the action solves the problem.

L&C: How does a manufacturer actually certify their vehicle?

Hellmuth: They can certify them any way they want. They can stand back and look through squinty eyes and say, “Yep, it sure does...” Then the rub comes. How do you back it up when we ask you about it? If you have done actual testing where you’ve bashed ten of them into a wall, or you’ve taken your heaviest vehicle which you feel is your worst case, and done a test on that, then you could say that the other vehicles certainly comply. You could do it through computer simulation. Sit down and figure the strength of this, that, and the other thing. The problem with computer simulations is that they’re no good unless verified by actual crash data. So it’s a situation where a manufacturer has to start doing things they should have been doing all along and probably haven’t.

L&C: How long will your information gathering process last?

Hellmuth: Well, since we’ve sent quite a few letters out, it might take a little longer than going after one or two people. I think from what we’ve seen so far, unless we start receiving an awful lot of information from these manufacturers in response to the specific questions we’ve asked, we will have to use the special order process through our legal department which is almost like a subpoena. When the questions are answered, they have to be sworn to in front of a notary public.

L&C: Who should coachbuilders contact for additional information about federal motor vehicle safety standards?

Hellmuth: Harry Thompson at NHTSA, at (202)366-2820, would probably be the best person for coachbuilders to contact.

L&C: What else would you like to add?

Hellmuth: Other industries have adopted some degree of self-regulation. The recreational vehicle industry has done that. They have set standards and communicated them to their members. Now I can’t tell the limousine industry what to do, but that’s an option they should be looking at. They should have some kind of central source looking into the federal standards and getting that information out to them. Then, if they want to adopt some standards and start self-policing, that’s fine. As far as the government’s concerned, it’s better to have an industry regulating itself than to have us jumping on them. We’ve got a lot of fish to fry and if an industry’s taking care of itself, we’ll step back and let them do it. But, as far as I can see, there’s been absolutely none of that in the limousine industry. Not only are they stretching beyond the realm of common sense, now I see that they are starting to widen the bodies out another couple feet which can’t do much to improve the situation.

L&C: Would you say that there is reason for the public to be concerned about riding in a typical limousine of moderate length?

Hellmuth: I would say you are much better off in a vehicle of moderate length than in one that has had a lot of crazy things done to it. Limousines have been around a long time and they have had a pretty good safety record over the years, but they haven’t gone to the extent that they have the past two or three years.

 

 

L&C Interview

NHTSA’S Robert Hellmuth

The inevitable has finally happened ... the National High-way Traffic Safety Administration has launched an industry-wide probe to determine how well stretch limousines stand up to the government’s 49 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). For the past several months, coachbuilders have been receiving letters from NHTSA asking for certification that their limousine conversions comply with federal standards concerning brakes, wheels and tires, fuel lines, vehicle labels, window tinting, and the effect of front impact on a vehicle’s steering column.

Limousine & Chauffeur editor and publisher Scott Fletcher recently discussed the NHTSA investigation with Robert F. Hellmuth, director of NHTSA’s Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance in Washington, DC. In the following interview, Hellmuth explains why the coachbuilding industry is being investigated. Hellmuth also outlines how the investigation is being conducted and comments on possible ramifications for the limousine industry. . .

L&C: Stretch limousines have been around for 20 years or so and it’s perceived that, all of a sudden, the federal government is interested in these vehicles. Has a problem been recognized or was regulation simply inevitable?

Hellmuth: The truth of the matter is we’ve always regulated the industry whether there’s been overt regulation or not. We’ve always been involved in all vehicles. We have a gentleman who has worked with limousine manufacturers over the years, as well as trailer manufacturers. It’s true that there probably hasn’t been as much focus on the limousine industry as on other industries, but I think everybody in the industry I’ve talked to indicates that the industry has really taken off in the last four or five years. Prior to that, there were very few manufacturers and the number of units built wasn’t that great. But now, in the last several years, it’s become a very visible industry. You see limousines wherever you go. And I think there has been a recognition that the industry seems to be either ignoring us completely, or is going beyond the bounds of common sense and reason. It doesn’t take too much of an observer to see what has happened to the limousine. Where there used to be a kind of common sense limousine that was stretched 40-, 50-, or 60-inches. . .You go out in the street now and you see 100-inch stretches, 120-inch stretches. You start seeing Jacuzzis. I haven’t seen any stone fireplaces in them yet but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if somebody was out there building them. I think there came a recognition that it was finally time to start focusing on this industry.

L&C: A public recognition?

Hellmuth: There’s not only a public recognition; we have received a number of letters from the public and state organizations over the past year. And also a recognition within the agency here. We go to car shows. We like to see what’s new in the industry, and it doesn’t take you an awful lot of time to find out when you go to an auto show and see a limousine stretched 120 inches, and you find there’s no certification label alongside the original manufacturer’s certification label. You start seeing some of the components put inside the vehicle, and whether or not they have seat belts. You see that some of these people aren’t paying attention to us. So you start wondering, “Does the industry even know we exist? Does the industry pay any attention to safety standards? Do they rely strictly on the original manufacturer’s certification?” Those are the kinds of questions we start asking ourselves.

L&C: Is there tangible evidence that limousines are unsafe?

Hellmuth: Well, if you recall, there was an incident, I think it was up in New York about a year ago, where a limousine was hit broadside and spewed people all over the place. Things like that start getting people’s attention and there have been some concerns voiced about how safe limousines are. The things that we look at are, when a limousine is stretched so long, there has to be some weight penalty. You don’t just add ten feet to a vehicle without adding weight to it. There are so many vehicle safety standards that are affected severely by weight.

The brake standards, for example. Brakes are designed with the thought that a vehicle is going to weigh a certain amount. If you add another 2,000 pounds, it’s probably not going to meet the braking standards. You have all that weight behind you. If you run a 204 test and bash it into a wall to see how far the steering column comes back, it’s going to crush a lot more because of all that weight crushing it into the wall. What about the suspension? The suspension of those vehicles was designed for such and such a weight. The wheels and tires were designed for such and such a weight. Now you’ve added all this extra weight. What happens to the wheels and tires? What about the spindles? What about the bearings and all the other weight- related things?

Same with the interior. When a manufacturer designs the car, they make certain their upholstery material meets the 302 flammability standards. That means it can’t burn beyond a certain rate per minute when tested a certain way. I’m not sure anybody in the limousine industry knows what the 302 is or if they test for that. That’s the kind of thing we’re looking into. Some limousines have no seatbelts. According to the safety standards, you have to have seatbelts in every position except jumpseats. So it certainly looks to us like the limousine industry is ripe to be reviewed.

L&C: Your suspicion is that the cars are unsafe?

Hellmuth: I guess you’d say this is a law enforcement proceeding right now. We are in the information gathering stage. We have not made any accusations. In fact, we can’t tell you what we’re going to do or how it’s going to come out. I think you can see what our concerns are.

L&C: What’s involved with information gathering?

Hellmuth: Well, we have written to 57 manufacturers and asked a few simple questions such as... How do you certify to the brake standards? How do you certify to the 204 standard? How do you certify to the wheel and tire standards? The simple things that are primarily weight-related. We haven’t even gotten to flammability and all the other things that could be involved. This is like the first cut at it. One question is, are you registered as a manufacturer? A lot of them aren’t. According to our regulations, if you’re building these cars, you’ve got to let us know. A lot of people haven’t done that. Are you certifying these vehicles? A lot of people haven’t done that. There’s an awful lot of either ignorance of us or a refusal to abide by the regulations. That’s what we’re trying to find out.

In addition to asking the limousine manufacturers, we’ve also written to General Motors and Ford. We said, “You’re building these things. Do you know what these guys are doing to them? If so, do you provide guidelines to these converters. How far can they go? When does your warranty cut off? When does the certification on the original vehicle run out? How much weight can they put in these things? Have you done work with them?” These are the kind of questions General Motors and Ford are now answering.

L&C: What kind of response have you gotten to these letters?

Hellmuth: Poor: So far we have gotten very little positive information. The interesting thing is that the gross vehicle weight is established by General Motors and Ford. That is based on the weight of the vehicle with all of the accessories such as air conditioning, and 150 pounds per passenger in every seating position, plus 200 pounds luggage weight. If you add up all these things, that is what the vehicle is rated and tested at. If somebody comes along and adds another section to the vehicle, and instead of seating six passengers it now seats eight or nine, and puts a bar in there and a television, and says, “I’m still within the gross vehicle weight. It’s a 6,000-pound gross rating for a Cadillac. . . My vehicle only weighs 5,800 pounds empty.” Well, if you have 5,800 pounds empty, guess what happens if you fill up the gas tank and put 150 pounds in every seating position? Guess what happens if you put 200 pounds in the trunk? You’re way beyond the manufacturer’s vehicle rating.

L&C: So it looks as though limousines exceed the gross vehicle weight?

Hellmuth: That’s what we’re trying to find out. That’s our suspicion, particularly with these larger stretches. There may be some point with a 40-inch stretch or a 50-inch stretch that’s fine. Where everything falls in place. But we’re not going to know that until we get the information from the manufacturers.

L&C: How do you expect manufacturers to go about becoming certified?

Hellmuth: What we have to find out is whether they comply now or not. So far, they haven’t given us any information that shows they do. They may have something they haven’t given us. I don’t know.

L&C: Assuming that this testing is new to some of these people, would it be something they would do independently or would there be a way of coordinating a cooperative test?

Hellmuth: There are a number of ways it could happen. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Cadillac or Lincoln would conduct testing in conjunction with the manufacturers. Cadillac and Lincoln have a vested interest in selling vehicles to this industry. That’s a possibility. We don’t know whether this may have already happened. Manufacturers can conduct their own tests. There are a number of testing laboratories available.

They can use the laboratories we use or find their own. We don’t have our own facilities as such. We contract with laboratories that assist us. They can smash a car just as easily as we can, or whatever it takes to certify the vehicle. But we feel it’s time that the industry clean up its act. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we might buy some of these cars our self and smash them into walls or do the things that are necessary like run the brake tests.

L&C: What are the main areas you are looking at initially?

Hellmuth: The things we asked for in our letter are the 105 standard and the 204 standard. That’s our initial look but I certainly think it’s going to blossom out beyond that. The tinted window standard is something that our office of chief counsel is handling independently. That is part of our glazing standard. They are taking the lead on that because there are other matters involved. That is certainly an area of apparent non-compliance. There are 49 safety standards, some of which apply to limousines and some of which do not. I would have to say very candidly that the manufacturers I’ve talked to profess a complete ignorance of many of the safety standards. The Code of Federal Regulations should be their Bible. These are all of the standards that a manufacturer has to abide by. I doubt there are many people in the industry who have even seen this book.

L&C: What kind of penalties are involved?

Hellmuth: Well, that’s another question. There’s a possibility of a $1,000 fine per violation with a maximum of $800,000. If a vehicle violates five standards, that’s $5,000.

L&C: Retroactive as long as you’ve been building?

Hellmuth: That’s right — for vehicles built after 1968. It can be modified depending on the circumstances. If a manufacturer has made a good faith effort to certify a vehicle, that’s something our legal department takes into consideration when assessing civil penalties.

L&C: Do you expect to see a length limitation like Cadillac’s guideline of 62 inches?

Hellmuth: That’s possible. If a limousine can be 62 inches long and meet the brake standards and so on, that’s line. But I think you’ll probably find that Cadillac and Lincoln are queasy about these extra long limousines. From what I understand, the insurance industry is becoming very queasy about them too. The same pattern occurred in the recreational vehicle industry. Vehicles became progressively longer so that they grossly exceeded weight capacities. You start having fires caused by bearings overheating, wheels coming off, engines blowing up, suspensions going to pot, and that kind of thing.

L&C: There are a lot of limousines on the road. What do you do about that?

Hellmuth: There are several ways to correct non-compliance or safety defects. There are two different situations here, not only the noncompliance with standards but other problems with safety-related defects. Both of those could result in a safety recall campaign. There are three ways to correct it: You can buy it back; you can repair the problem; or you can replace the vehicle. As far as I can remember, there was only one instance where a manufacturer bought back vehicles and that was Fiat years ago. They were so bad they couldn’t be repaired. But that’s certainly within the provisions of the act.

L&C: How does a recall actually happen?

Hellmuth: The recall process has two steps: The first is public notification. Manufacturers are supposed to keep lists of who bought their vehicles. There is a record-keeping requirement. They have to send letters of notification to the buyers of their vehicles saying, “We have determined there is a safety defect or noncompliance or whatever, and here’s what you can do to correct it....”

The second part is the correction thereof, which is a different ball of wax. Can you correct the problem by putting different brake pads on, for example? Can we correct this problem by putting different suspension on it or stronger wheels and tires? It’s the individual manufacturer’s responsibility to determine what the recall action is going to be. Of course, we will look over his shoulder to make sure the action solves the problem.

L&C: How does a manufacturer actually certify their vehicle?

Hellmuth: They can certify them any way they want. They can stand back and look through squinty eyes and say, “Yep, it sure does...” Then the rub comes. How do you back it up when we ask you about it? If you have done actual testing where you’ve bashed ten of them into a wall, or you’ve taken your heaviest vehicle which you feel is your worst case, and done a test on that, then you could say that the other vehicles certainly comply. You could do it through computer simulation. Sit down and figure the strength of this, that, and the other thing. The problem with computer simulations is that they’re no good unless verified by actual crash data. So it’s a situation where a manufacturer has to start doing things they should have been doing all along and probably haven’t.

L&C: How long will your information gathering process last?

Hellmuth: Well, since we’ve sent quite a few letters out, it might take a little longer than going after one or two people. I think from what we’ve seen so far, unless we start receiving an awful lot of information from these manufacturers in response to the specific questions we’ve asked, we will have to use the special order process through our legal department which is almost like a subpoena. When the questions are answered, they have to be sworn to in front of a notary public.

L&C: Who should coachbuilders contact for additional information about federal motor vehicle safety standards?

Hellmuth: Harry Thompson at NHTSA, at (202)366-2820, would probably be the best person for coachbuilders to contact.

L&C: What else would you like to add?

Hellmuth: Other industries have adopted some degree of self-regulation. The recreational vehicle industry has done that. They have set standards and communicated them to their members. Now I can’t tell the limousine industry what to do, but that’s an option they should be looking at. They should have some kind of central source looking into the federal standards and getting that information out to them. Then, if they want to adopt some standards and start self-policing, that’s fine. As far as the government’s concerned, it’s better to have an industry regulating itself than to have us jumping on them. We’ve got a lot of fish to fry and if an industry’s taking care of itself, we’ll step back and let them do it. But, as far as I can see, there’s been absolutely none of that in the limousine industry. Not only are they stretching beyond the realm of common sense, now I see that they are starting to widen the bodies out another couple feet which can’t do much to improve the situation.

L&C: Would you say that there is reason for the public to be concerned about riding in a typical limousine of moderate length?

Hellmuth: I would say you are much better off in a vehicle of moderate length than in one that has had a lot of crazy things done to it. Limousines have been around a long time and they have had a pretty good safety record over the years, but they haven’t gone to the extent that they have the past two or three years.

 

 

 

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