25% of for-hire vehicles dispatched would have to be accessible by 2022.
As any business owner, or alert employee working for a business knows, we toil amid massive regulations, unprecedented in the 224-year history of the U.S. American business is being eaten up by costly rules, nibbled by a government obese with good intentions, whether it pertains to manning the workplace, running vehicles, starting a business, exploring for more energy, or in the case of New York City, simply drinking a sugary soda. Blame flourishes more than responsibility, while the language of legal liability can barely keep up with rampant lawsuits.
‘Not my fault’ and ‘You will pay for this’ are 21st Century America’s litigious mantras.
So it should be no surprise that after several tragic accidents involving drunk passengers in limousine vehicles, the state of California would try to. . . just do something! As of Jan. 1, A.B. 45 became law, requiring operators to make sure a chaperone age 25 or older is on duty on any limo vehicle where alcohol and minors are present. As LCT writer Jim Luff’s article in this issue explains, that chaperone must be provided either by the chartering party or the limousine company. Either way, the chaperone is held responsible for any underage drinking, while the operator is mandated to ensure a legal chaperone is present in the first place.
Now, while the new law may be less than ideal, it is as the saying goes, one the chauffeured transportation industry can do business with. It serves as much a model of industry and government cooperation as it does a sincere attempt to protect charter parties and the traveling public. The process shows how businesses can sway regulations to work in their favor — in an over-regulated culture that thinks it can create a risk-free Utopia.
The law evolved from frequent communication and interaction between the Greater California Livery Association and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo. What came out of this process was the product of the GCLA patiently explaining how the limousine industry works, and an open-minded and gracious state politician who took the time to listen to business interests.
“Everyone has to take responsibility, but [Sen. Hill] didn’t come across as if he was writing this bill to take it out on the limo industry,” said Gary Buffo, a board director of the GCLA and the National Limousine Association, who runs a large chauffeured transportation company in Petaluma, Calif. “He did it for his constituents.”
Hill invited GCLA representatives — including Buffo, President Mark Stewart, board director Christopher Quinn, Vice President Rich Azzolino, and lobbyists Gregg Cook and Rob Grossglauser — to give input on how the law should read. Buffo recalls that the first version of the law came down too hard on operators. [Text of final law at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html].
“He gave us all the time in the world,” Buffo says. “We explained everything we did. He saw a totally different side to the limo business. He understood and worked with us to change it. He could have turned us away and just gone with something, but didn’t and met with the GCLA. He was very cordial and always wanted to work with us.”
While not a win-win, the law is a best case. Most of the burden of responsibility for underage drinking shifts from the limousine operator to the charter party renting the vehicle, if the chartering party provides the chaperone. It avoids slamming limousine operators with the extra overhead costs of a second employee to accompany every retail party bus trip that has alcohol and minors on board. As Buffo points out, reputable limousine operators already make any parents renting vehicles on behalf of teenagers or minors — mostly going to senior proms — sign waivers accepting responsibility and explaining that any signs of illegal alcohol consumption detected by a chauffeur will result in immediate termination of the ride.
The tragic backstory to A.B. 45 is the death of Brett Studebaker of San Mateo County in December 2010. Brett, age 19, imbibed illegally and excessively on a limo bus and later drove his personal vehicle after the limo bus run ended for the night. He crashed into a sound wall and died. Without any doubt, his grieving family and friends deserve utmost sympathy and support. But the cold facts cannot be denied: A legal adult, but an illegal consumer of alcohol, chose to drink, knowing the law. He then chose to get into his own car intoxicated, knowing the law. We can say for certain the chauffeur and the owner of the company that runs the limo bus are not at fault.
In a culture that truly valued accountability and responsibility, A.B. 45 would not be needed. Operators would rent out their vehicles to adults 21 years of age or older, while self-regulating clients would handle and monitor consumption of alcoholic beverages. Chauffeurs would be responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle and ensuring passengers behave safely and follow rules, whether they drink or not. [And the legal drinking age would be identical to the Selective Service registration age, but that is an inflammatory topic for another day].
In such a culture, fault would lie with the parties exercising their freedoms and choosing their risks. That’s not the America we have today, nor one emerging any time soon. So limousine operators and their advocates nationwide will need to take a lesson from Big California, and work to make sure the rules of the road curve to their advantage.
Related Topics: accidents, alcoholic beverages, California operators, Chris Quinn, Gary Buffo, Greater California Livery Association, limo buses, Mark Stewart, party buses, Rich Azzolino, state regulations, underage drinking
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