Regulations

Tough New Rules Would Slam California Limo Operators With More Costs

Posted on September 5, 2013

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The prospect of retrofitting stretches with pop-out windows and/or roof hatches could be costly and cumbersome. Questions to address: Are there DOT approved pop-out hatches available that meet the two-movement rule (no more than two hand movements to release)? What would be the exact size and material requirements? Could a bus-approved roof or window exit even be installed on a stretch limo? Can the sleek panoramic single-piece stretch limo windows be replaced with pop-out versions? Can the number of limousine manufacturers handle all the retrofit requirements and anticipated volume? Have California legislators even thought this through and considered all the engineering requirements?
The prospect of retrofitting stretches with pop-out windows and/or roof hatches could be costly and cumbersome. Questions to address: Are there DOT approved pop-out hatches available that meet the two-movement rule (no more than two hand movements to release)? What would be the exact size and material requirements? Could a bus-approved roof or window exit even be installed on a stretch limo? Can the sleek panoramic single-piece stretch limo windows be replaced with pop-out versions? Can the number of limousine manufacturers handle all the retrofit requirements and anticipated volume? Have California legislators even thought this through and considered all the engineering requirements?

[UPDATED 9/5/13 5:05 p.m. PDT w/limo size specifics; 3:55 p.m. PDT w/exact language from the bill]

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California limousine industry could be just days away from seeing legislation pass that would wallop operators with costly requirements to retrofit all existing limousines designed for 10 people or less with one or possibly two additional exit points by Jan. 1, 2016.

S.B. 109, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, the Senate Majority Leader, would radically alter the safety requirements for stretch limousines, especially those carrying up to nine passengers [120-in./10-pack stretches or shorter] which so far have not been subject to safety inspections in the state of California.

If passed, the legislation stands to raise the costs of running stretch limousines in California and may force many operators to raise rates or just get out of the stretch limo niche entirely.

The strict legislation comes in the wake of the fatal May 4 stretch limousine fire near San Francisco in which five women celebrating a bachelorette party could not escape the limo, a 1999 Lincoln Town Car 120-in. stretch, as it was consumed by a fireball on the San Mateo Bridge. Four other women did get out and survived. A state investigation determined that the fire was caused by an obscure series of catastrophic factors that so far have not been identified as causes in any other stretch limousine fires or accidents. In addition, the limousine was carrying one passenger beyond its legal safety limit (in the limo compartment) and the chauffeur failed to immediately pull over when hearing the first warning of smoke from a passenger.

Long before the results of the investigation were announced by the California Highway Patrol on Aug. 19, Corbett and state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, were proposing sweeping new safety rules for stretch limousines. Hill is sponsoring S.B. 338, known as the fire extinguisher bill, which would require two fire extinguishers to be installed on every stretch limousine in the state of California and subject stretch limousines carrying 10 people (including driver) or fewer to annual safety inspections.

S.B. 109 would cover two major categories of limousines carrying up to 10 people (8 back + 2 front, or nine passengers plus chauffeur): 

  • All new limousines purchased after July 1, 2015 would be required to have a fifth door and one additional emergency exit, such as a pop-out window or a pop-out roof hatch.
  • All existing stretch limousines would need to have two additional exit points — either two pop-out windows OR one pop-out window and a pop-out roof hatch — installed no later than Jan. 1, 2016. According to the language in the proposed S.B. 109 bill, it "would prohibit any person from operating a limousine, in any city, county, or city and county that has been modified or extended for purposes of increasing vehicle length in an amount sufficient to accommodate additional passengers unless the limousine is equipped with at least two rear side doors and one or two rear windows that the rear seat passengers or all passengers of the vehicle may open from the inside of the vehicle in case of any fire or other emergency, as specified.. . . At least one push-out window shall be located on each side of the vehicle, unless the design of the limousine precludes the installation of a push-out window on one side of the vehicle, in which case the second push-out window shall instead be located in the roof of the vehicle. If the design of the limousine precludes the installation of even one push-out window on a side of the vehicle, one push-out window shall instead be located in the roof of the vehicle."

[NOTE: Chauffeured vehicles with 11 or more people (including driver) are already subject to state rules governing buses that require safety inspections and additional exit points]:

Lobbyists and leaders of the Greater California Livery Association are trying to amend the language in the proposed bill to change the retrofit deadline to Jan. 1, 2019, while requiring only one additional exit point for existing limousines and new limousines. The egress point could either be a fifth door OR a pop-out window; it would be a market decision for operators and coach builders, said Rob Grossglauser of Government Affairs Consulting in Sacramento, the lobbying firm representing the GCLA.

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