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After a spate of passenger deaths nationwide, California has enacted tough laws to protect young people chartering “party buses” and other limo vehicles. In the past, the partition between the chauffeur and passengers was regarded as a divider, sealing off the party activities.
To a large extent, chauffeurs tended to ignore what the passengers did in the back of the vehicle, within reason, as it is considered to be the clients’ domain. The new law places the burden of controlling underage drinking on carriers and drivers, with a hefty fine of $2,000 for a first offense. Chauffeurs and company officials also may be charged with a misdemeanor just for having alcohol on board a bus with minors if certain conditions are not met.
What Prompted the Law
Since the proliferation of limo buses, there have been some tragic circumstances involving the death of passengers onboard these vehicles following a night of drinking. A trend across America has emerged. Young people charter limo buses or super-stretched SUVs, such as Excursions and Hummers, that hold 16-20 passengers and function as mobile nightclubs. However, in many cases, no one is checking the IDs of the passengers drinking alcohol, and operators presumably believe the person who chartered the vehicle is responsible for what happens in the passenger area. As long as someone is of legal age to buy the booze, it has been presumed that the person who furnished the booze would be the one to get in trouble with the law if the vehicle was stopped. In February 2010, 19 year-old Brett Studebaker spent the evening drinking aboard a party-bus in San Mateo, Calif. After exiting the bus at the end of the night, Studebaker, with a blood alcohol content three times the legal limit, plowed his car into a sound wall and died.
By December 2010, California State Sen. Gerald “Jerry” Hill introduced a bill in the State Assembly known as AB45, or loosely known as the “Brett Studebaker Law.”
History of Party Bus Deaths
While Brett Studebaker died driving his personal car following a night of drinking on a party bus, there are plenty more incidents around the nation that have killed passengers and made legislators collectively gasp and ask who is overseeing these buses. The truth is, no one was.
In June 2011, a 24 year-old Detroit man was killed when he stuck his head out of an emergency hatch on a party bus and struck it on an over crossing. While this tragic accident didn’t garner much media attention, a similar incident in August 2012 killed a 16 year-old boy in New Jersey and caused a media firestorm about party buses. In July 2012, two girls got into a fight on a party bus and one of them pulled an emergency exit handle and shoved the other out onto the highway, killing the 25 year-old passenger. The other involved party was a 20 year-old and found to be intoxicated by investigating law enforcement officers. In September 2012, an 11 year-old girl tumbled out of an emergency exit in Portland, OR, killing her. Perhaps this is a law that needed to be enacted.