Will five-door stretch limousines become standard in California, as legislators consider new safety rules and regulations for the industry?
LOS ANGELES -- One day after the California Highway Patrol deemed the May 4 fatal limosuine fire near San Francisco a tragedy, the Greater California Livery Association vowed to try to modify provisions in a limo bill that could prove very costly for limousine operators.
MEDIA REPORTS ON LIMO FIRE FINDINGS HERE
In the months following the fire, and before the release of the official investigation, several state legislators jumped to conclusions about limousines needing fire extinguishers, possible push out escape windows, and/or a fifth door near the front of a stretch limousine. There is also a proposal afoot that would require annual safety inspections of six-passenger and eight-passenger stretch limousines.
GCLA leaders, including President Mark Stewart and board director Rich Azzolino, have been meeting with the sponsors of the bills to help educate them on limousine industry vehicles, operations, and safety measures. During these meetings, the leaders have worked to help modify the langugage in areas where it is either unclear or unrealistic.
The two bills are S.B. 338, known as the fire extinguisher bill, proposed by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo; and S.B. 109, related to emergency limo exits, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, the Senate Majority Leader.
Despite the fact that the limousine fire can be considered a one-off catastrophe, in which the chauffeur and operator were not charged criminally and the original manufacturer is not responsible for the defect that caused the fire, some type of additional regulations for stretch limousines are likely, Stewart said. Hill and Corbett have strong support among legislators, and their political party controls both houses of the Legislature, the Governorship, and all key executive departments.
Among the points Stewart shared during the GCLA meeting in Los Angeles Tuesday night:
- The language in the fire extinguisher bill now states that two fire extinguishers should be kept in stretch limousines, one in the chauffeur/driver area and one in the trunk. The GCLA is not opposed to this requirement, and it is consistent with some National Limousine Association safety guidelines issued Monday following the release of the findings.
- Annual inspections of stretch limousines at a cost of $25 per vehicle are fine if they are required and administered at the state level only. One hitch that developed recently is that the San Francisco International Airport wants its own inspection set-up, which is unacceptable to limousine operators because it duplicates regulations and costs, Stewart said.
- S.B. 109 has been changed slightly to require two push out emergency exit windows instead of doors and/or a fifth door next to the chauffeur compartment for stretch limousines. Coachbuilders brought into discussions on the bill explained it is structurally impossible to build limousines with push out doors, but that such windows are doable. Fifth doors have been common on many stretch limousine models in the past decade, but those models cost more than typical four-door stretches. The bill would require all new limousines to have the push outs or fifth doors by Jan. 1, 2015. But a proposed provision requiring all existing limousines to be retrofitted in such ways by Jan. 1, 2016, is impractical, costly and prohibitive, Stewart said. One possible compromise would be a back date limit on grandfathered limousines, but so far one has not emerged.
- The GCLA is asking that existing limousines be grandfathered in the law but Senators so far appear headstrong on this issue, Stewart said. "Politics is playing into this. It doesn't matter how safe we are or how rare the accident is, they are looking at ways to [regulate] us," he said, spurred by all the media hype.
Following the findings on the limo fire, NLA President Gary Buffo told LCT: "The investigators did the right thing by not speculating at the beginning. The authorities involved did a thorough investigation and found the root cause. They have proved it was a fluke, something completely uncommon that has never happened in the history of the industry. It is our time to be proactive not reactive. This is a situation we can learn from. The NLA has put together our recommendations for passenger safety and things we felt as a board we should get across to our membership. Let’s look at what we can do better for the industry in the future.”
-- Martin Romjue, LCT editor