Operations

Are You Ready To Handle A Limo Accident?

Jim Luff
Posted on July 18, 2013

Preparing for a serious emergency, such as the San Francisco limousine disaster in May, isn’t part of most chauffeur training programs. Considering fatalities and injuries in chauffeured vehicle accidents in recent years, we should emphasize making sure drivers know exactly what to do in the event of a collision or other incident that affects passenger safety.

Why We Should Train
In addition to the five women killed in the stretch limo fire, a Kansas City woman died after falling out of a party bus that same weekend, another woman died after tumbling out of a party bus in the San Francisco Bay Area last summer, and a New York teen died of head injuries a few years ago while sticking his head through a ceiling hatch as the bus passed under a bridge. As an industry, we need to not only operate in a safe manner but provide a level of preventative and responsive safety when something happens.

As much as passengers on a ship or plane would look to the captain in an emergency, our chauffeurs and drivers must project the same calm. When a big limo bus crashes with party goers dancing about in the back of the bus, things get ugly. It can happen to any operator at any time. Teach your chauffeurs to follow a logical plan in the seconds after the crash or incident.

Bakersfield, Calif., firefighter Chris Campbell helped LCT create a training exercise of a common accident scenario and outlined steps that should be taken immediately following a crash.
Bakersfield, Calif., firefighter Chris Campbell helped LCT create a training exercise of a common accident scenario and outlined steps that should be taken immediately following a crash.

Staging A Training Accident
Bakersfield, Calif., Fire Department firefighter Chris Campbell and California Highway Patrolman Gary Johannesen helped LCT create a training exercise of a common accident scenario and outlined steps that should be taken immediately following a crash. Campbell formerly served as a motorcycle traffic officer before trading his gun for a hose. Johannesen is a 26-year veteran motorcycle traffic officer.

The Crash Scenario
Your limousine is making a left hand turn at a controlled intersection (signal lights) and while traveling through the intersection, the limousine is broadsided on the right side. The limousine is disabled in the lanes of traffic with five passengers in the rear. The right side door will not open. There is no fuel leak and the other driver is not injured. However, two of your passengers are complaining of back and neck pain. One of the injured also has cuts from broken glass on her legs and is bleeding. There are several bystanders at the intersection waiting to cross the street when the collision occurs.

Driver Training Steps
Before starting the response training, remind your chauffeurs to stop for just a second and take a big deep breath and remind themselves to stay calm, ask bystanders or non-injured passengers to assist where needed, and direct the passengers or bystanders if you need them to do something for you. People usually will respond in a crisis but may need to be asked, Johannesen says.
•••••
Step No. 1: Get help on the way. Whether dialing 911 or asking someone to do it, before you do anything else, make sure help is coming as you may not have an opportunity again and lose precious time.
•••••
Step No. 2: Assess the situation. Check that the vehicle is not on fire or losing fuel anywhere. If fuel is present, warn people around you so that a bystander does not ignite a flare near the vehicle. Make sure that any attempt to open passenger doors is done without risking the safety of the driver or the passengers who may lunge out the door when opened, Johannesen says.
•••••
Step No. 3: Secure your passengers. Check on them through the partition first, Johannesen advises. If it is safer to remain in the vehicle, leave them there. If it would be safer to get them to the sidewalk, do so unless anyone in the car is injured. If they are injured ask them not to move and enlist another party to hold them still until medical help arrives if needed. Provide any other emergency First Aid as needed and within your capability such as applying pressure on bleeding wounds.
•••••
Step No. 4: Information gathering. It is time to document the scene as best you can and get the names and phone numbers of those who witnessed, assisted or were involved in the accident. Take many photos of the scene from many different angles. Include close-ups of license plate numbers, skid marks, debris field, signal lights and vehicles. Pass out witness cards from the insurance accident kit and ask people to complete them. Have your passengers fill out witness cards as well. Use the diagram chart provided in the kit to draw the position of the vehicles on the diagram.
•••••
Step No. 5: Be quiet! Outside of giving a statement to a law enforcement officer about what happened, it is best that your chauffeur not discuss the accident with anyone else and certainly never speak to the media at the scene. If the scene is properly documented, law enforcement or the judicial system will determine what happened.

California Highway Patrolman Gary Johannesen, a 26-year veteran motorcycle traffic officer, advises that outside of giving a statement to a law enforcement officer about what happened, it is best that your chauffeur not discuss the accident with anyone else and certainly never speak to the media at the scene. If the scene is properly documented, law enforcement or the judicial system will determine what happened.
California Highway Patrolman Gary Johannesen, a 26-year veteran motorcycle traffic officer, advises that outside of giving a statement to a law enforcement officer about what happened, it is best that your chauffeur not discuss the accident with anyone else and certainly never speak to the media at the scene. If the scene is properly documented, law enforcement or the judicial system will determine what happened.

Driver Performance
In reviewing this scenario, Campbell and Johannesen recommend the following actions:  
The chauffeur first should see if he is injured. If not, the chauffeur should enlist the aid of a bystander (this can be played by another chauffeur in role play) to call 911 and follow up that the call is being made.

Next the chauffeur would assess the situation checking for fire, fuel leaks and the safety of the door areas of the car before opening the doors. Once determined to be safe, open all doors allowing access to injured passengers so that bystanders and arriving first-responders may enter if needed. The uninjured passengers should be moved to the sidewalk to wait for emergency personnel. The injured passengers should not be moved to avoid further injury.
“Every scenario is different with its own set of circumstances and the driver must weigh out whether attempting to move the vehicle to the shoulder or nearest off-ramp would make the roadway and passengers safer,” Johannsen says. “Don’t worry about further damage to the vehicle. It is secondary to safety.” Johannesen has escorted cars driving on three wheels to the nearest highway off-ramp.

Diverting traffic around the accident is usually accomplished by other vehicles coming to a stop and creating a traffic jam, Johannesen says. This works in the driver’s favor. He cautions against stepping into traffic to direct cars around the accident scene. “The driver has a moral obligation to tend to his passengers. He does not have a moral obligation to place himself in harm’s way that could cause him to be killed or injured.”

Once help has arrived, the driver should begin collecting information including the other party’s name, contact information and insurance information. List the names of the injured parties, bystanders who helped, and witnesses. When simulating this, have a complete photocopied accident kit on hand. Use other drivers or employees as witnesses and bystanders so your trainee gets practice filling out all the forms from the kit.

Equipping Vehicles and Drivers
Training your chauffeurs and drivers how to react in the event of an emergency is just the first part of handling one. Having the proper tools to deal with everything from a simple flat tire to a major car fire or accident is just as important, Campbell says. Johannesen also recommends having a protocol for the driver to contact company officials. Drivers generally believe that law enforcement or fire department officials will contact company officials. While they eventually may call, it should be the driver who notifies company officials and begins arranging for the disposition of the vehicle.

Define Accident Incident Procedures

  • In an emergency, who should the driver call?
  • What is the phone number and an alternate number?
  • Will someone from the company respond to the scene?
  • If a tow truck is needed, what company should be called?
  • Who will call the tow service?
  • Is the chauffeur expected to complete the accident kit or a company official?

Basic Emergency Equipment
State laws vary on required equipment such as fire extinguishers and first aid kits. However, common sense and an ounce of precaution dictate that some basic equipment should be carried. This includes the following items:

  • Tire jack
  • Lug nut wrench *
  • Spare tire
  • First Aid kit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Seat-belt cutter
  • Window punch
  • Gallon of water
  • Paper towels
  • Heavy gloves
  • Road flares or reflective triangles

Note: Sometimes aftermarket lug nuts are used by coachbuilders rendering the factory provided lug nut wrench useless. A four-way type provides much more leverage and fits a variety of lug nuts that can be used to help others.


Flares vs. Triangles
There are positive and negative aspects to each. Flares are dangerous when placed too close to spilled fuel or other fluids on the ground. They can drop molten hot wax on you while carrying them. However, they are far more visible in the dark and allow motorists to see them from at least a mile away. Triangles can be used repeatedly and take minutes to set up. But they are not visible at night unless a direct source of light reflects them and are virtually invisible when used in the daylight as they are designed to reflect light. The best plan is to carry both. Make sure your chauffeurs know how to use both. Do not assume they already know how to use either. Practicing with them before they are needed will give your chauffeur confidence if he has to use them.

SIDEBAR: All About Vehicle Fire Extinguishers
All fire extinguishers are not created equal. Having the right type of fire extinguisher in the right place can mean the difference between a small “spot” fire or a major inferno. Campbell also cautions that most fire extinguishers for vehicles are not made to handle large fires. If the flames are literally over your head, get away from the fire and wait for the fire department. At this point, the extinguisher is useless.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Administration code 393.95, every bus under the jurisdiction of the US DOT must carry a fire extinguisher with a rating Underwriters Laboratory rating of 5 B:C or two with a rating of 4 B:C. The rating must be affixed to the extinguisher.

Ratings, Types and Size: What They Mean
Fire extinguisher ratings contain a number and a letter. The number refers to the size of area intended to be extinguished and the letter indicates the type of fire that can be extinguished. The bigger the number, the bigger the extinguisher all the way up to 30 pounds. The recommended size for most vehicles is one to two and a half pounds. DOT approved fire extinguishers must have a visual indicator showing if they are fully charged. Campbell recommends that small fire extinguishers also should have a visual gauge, although not legally required, and contain an ABC rating to fight a variety of fires.

  • Type A: Paper, wood, plastic and other combustible material
  • Type B: Flammable liquids and gases
  • Type C: Electrical fires including those that are energized or still electrified

Never purchase a Type A extinguisher for your vehicles. It is a water-based agent that can conduct electricity if sprayed on an electrical fire endangering the person using the extinguisher. Type ABC or BC extinguishers contain a dry chemical that will blanket the fire rather than spread it. Dry chemical fire extinguishers propelled by C02 (Carbon Dioxide) are the best types as the chemical is pushed out of the extinguisher with force offering a larger distance between you and the fire and a more rapid extinguishment.

Where To Store Or Mount
The are many places on a vehicle to store a fire extinguisher such as the trunk, door jamb, window pillars, floorboard or walls of a bus. “Having two fire extinguishers in two locations is best,” Campbell says. One should be near the chauffeur and one where passengers or bystanders have access. When choosing a location to mount your extinguishers, high visibility should be a priority in selection. Johannesen points out that many trucks on the road have signage on the cab that states, “Fire extinguisher inside,” on various compartment doors. DOT regulations require extinguishers to be fixed or mounted so they cannot “slide, roll or have vertical movement.”

Annual Inspections
Laws vary among states on how often fire extinguishers should be inspected. A company certified by your state to inspect and tag fire extinguishers should examine your extinguisher at least annually. This is referred to as fire extinguisher maintenance. Your personnnel should inspect fire extinguishers at least every 30 days to make sure the pins are in place, the gauges show a full charge, and the extinguishers are in good physical condition. Campbell recommends shaking the extinguishers at the same time to keep the dry chemical from compacting inside.

Correctly Using an Extinguisher
This begins by knowing how to remove it from its mount. Johannesen and Campbell say it is not uncommon to find people struggling with the mount as they arrive. Having drivers perform the 30-day inspection and shaking will cause them to learn how each mount works and quickly release the extinguisher when needed. The next step is pull the pin and squeeze the handle. A 2.5 pound extinguisher will empty in about 10 seconds within a range of about 10-15 feet. It is important to aim the extinguisher at the base of a fire when squeezing the handle.

Basic Fire Extinguisher Use

  • Remove from mount.
  • Pull the pin while holding the extinguisher by the body.
  • Place one hand on the bottom of the extinguisher for aiming.
  • Place the other hand on the nozzle.
  • Aim toward the base of the fire — not the flames.
  • Squeeze the handle and dispense the powder over the base of the fire.
  • If the fire was not extinguished, move to safety and wait for help.

Related Topics: accident reduction, accidents, chauffeur training, driver training, How To, limo crashes, limousine fires, limousine safety, passenger safety, safety education, staff training, West Coast operators

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
Comments ( 1 )
  • Joe Olivares

     | about 5 years ago

    Very informative article. The first company I drove for had a fire extinguisher just placed on the front passenger floor board, so it would roll around during transit. Unfortunately while working for the same company I was involved in a vehicle accident on a Sunday afternoon and when I tried to contact the owner I was unable to reach him. I had to call another driver to come pick me up, and pay the tow truck driver personally. I was reimbursed by the owner the following week. This experience helped me in creating our Standard Operating Procedures for my business. I will definitely revist our S.O.P, and cross reference it with this article. Thanks LCT!

More Stories
Article

How To Get Clients To See Value In Your Rates

NOV. LCT: We fear our own prices when comparing ourselves to TNCs, but we don’t compete with them any more than Marriott does with a Motel 6. Learn how to justify your rates without guilt.

News

2018's Luxury Travel Trends

Among the highlights for next year is a focus on far-flung destinations along with international trips of two weeks or more.

Article

The Art Of Sales

NOV. LCT: In the battle to obtain new clients and retain loyal ones, only those who know the best ways to reach, connect with, and educate them will survive.

Article

How To Handle Conflicts Of Interest

NOV. LCT: Forming relationships with your customers is a vital part of retaining them. But how do you ensure you and your employees never cross the line of professionalism?