New, First-Ever California Law Requires Limo Bus Chaperones

Jim Luff
Posted on March 6, 2013

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.  

History of the Law
The new law that went into effect implements new or revised vehicle codes and the Public Utilities codes. These were major revisions to existing laws in addition to the new laws. The bill was first introduced by Hill in December 2010 as an act to amend Section 5384.5 of the PUC code, add Section 5355.5, and repeal and replace Section 5384.1. It also amended Section 23229.1 of the California Vehicle Code and added Section 40000.20 all relating to the operations of charter-party carriers.

The original bill was amended three times in the State Assembly and another four times in the State Senate before being signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 23, 2012 and implemented Jan. 1, 2013. It has been a long road with plenty of opportunity for input from the general public and lobbyists of the Greater California Livery Association. It is likely to be modeled across the nation. Sen. Jerry Hill (D) is from San Mateo, the hometown of Studebaker. Hill began his political career as a city councilman in San Mateo and went on to serve as an elected county supervisor of San Mateo County. However, fault in the death of Studebaker is a much debated topic since Studebaker ultimately contributed to his death by making a decision to drive his vehicle. The other people who have died also engaged in behavior that contributed to or caused their deaths.

Legislative Summary
Charter-party carriers of passengers: Alcoholic beverages/Open Containers:
The Passenger Charter-party Carriers’ Act, with certain exceptions, prohibits a charter-party carrier of passengers from engaging in transportation services subject to regulation by the California PUC without obtaining a specified certificate or permit, as appropriate, from the commission. The act, except as specified, requires the driver of any limousine for hire operated by a charter-party carrier of passengers to comply with prescribed requirements relating to alcoholic beverages, including ascertaining (determining) whether any passenger is under the age of 21 years, reading to the passenger a statement that the consumption of any alcoholic beverage in the vehicle is unlawful, requiring those passengers to sign the statement, and, if a minor passenger, after signing the statement, is found to be, or to have been, consuming any alcoholic beverage during the course of the ride, immediately terminating the contract and returning to the point of origin. The act subjects the carrier to specified civil penalties, based on the number of offenses, for conviction of a driver, or any employee of the carrier, of a violation of the Vehicle Code that prohibits storage of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle. This bill repeals the above-described provisions concerning the responsibilities of a driver of a limousine for hire operated by the carrier relating to consumption of alcoholic beverages by passengers under the age of 21. The bill instead requires the carrier to ask the chartering party, at the time transportation service is prearranged, upon being asked, requires the chartering party to disclose (1) if alcoholic beverages will be served by the chartering party, as defined, or be transported in the passenger compartment of the vehicle during transportation and (2) if any member of the party to be provided with transportation services will be under 21 years of age. The bill requires the chartering party to designate a designee, as defined, and imposes requirements for a designee of the chartering party and the driver of the vehicle depending upon the presence of specified circumstances. The bill makes the designee or, if present, the parent or legal guardian, legally responsible for any reasonably foreseeable personal injury or property damage that is proximately caused by a violation of laws prohibiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages by a person under 21 years of age when alcoholic beverages are consumed during the provision of transportation services. The bill makes failure to comply with certain of its requirements a misdemeanor and would make any violation of its requirements by a carrier or its driver subject to civil penalties imposed by the commission.

To read the laws in their entirety visit the California Legislature legal information website. Click here.

Search for the following:

  • California Public Utilities Code 5384.1
  • California Public Utilities Code 5384.5
  • California Vehicle Code 23229.1
  • California Vehicle Code 40000.20

You may also check a guide written by a retired judge what covers in detail California laws related to car accidents. Click here.

Step-By-Step Simple Rules

At Time of Reservation:
Ask chartering party if alcohol will be served.
If No: No further action needed.

If Yes: Ask if anyone will be under the age of 21.    
If No: No further action.

If Yes: Designate a chaperone, either from the chartering party or the charter provider, over the age of 25 by name.

  • Prepare and deliver prescribed document to designee for signature.  
  • Must be returned at least 72 hours prior to the commencement of service.
  • Inform chartering party that designee will be legally responsible for any underage drinking and must be present at all times when alcohol is present.

On The Day of Service

  • Designee must verify all IDs of passengers.
  • Designee must read provided statement to minors.
  • Vehicle cannot move until all IDs are checked and statement is read to minors.
  • Designee must inform driver of any suspected underage drinking.
  • Designee is responsible for all minors in the vehicle until safely delivered home.

Related Topics: alcoholic beverages, California operators, party buses, state regulations, underage drinking

Jim Luff General Manager
Comments ( 2 )
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  • TJ Anderson

     | about 7 years ago

    I am somewhat surprised at the laissez-faire tone of the article, as it has always been the policy with our company that in order to consume adult beverages inside the vehicle, EVERYONE in the vehicle must be over 21 and ID on their person. Underage drinking is not tolerated, and results in termination of the ride, without refund, and a phone call to the parents in question.

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