Regulations

A Fact-Driven Clapback Operators Can Use

Martin Romjue
Posted on December 3, 2018
What a safe stretch limousine looks like. Most have rolled without incident for decades. (LCT file photo)
What a safe stretch limousine looks like. Most have rolled without incident for decades. (LCT file photo)

Have you seen much informed follow up in the media about the limousine crash? Almost two months after the tragic Oct. 6 crash that took 20 lives in upstate New York, as of this writing federal investigators have yet to pinpoint an exact cause, which could come any day.

After shrill calls for more safety, finger-wagging against the limousine industry, and misinformed speculation, the collective news media whirled a spotlight and faded out for a while. We’ll get another eruption and round of indignant spasms once a crash cause is released.

I’ve been intrigued with media behavior ever since growing up in a newshound household and working on school newspapers. Earlier in my career, I got to join the news horde for some breaking stories. What I’ve noticed now in the era of tweets, alerts, and insta-scoops is an overwhelming need for context and basic facts. Those aren’t always available.

Key Points On Stretch Limousine Crash

With perspective, here are some points to remember when the media comes knocking for the next outburst, whether a fatal bus rollover, limo accident, or vehicle fire.

More laws?

Politicians and media often call for more rules as they scramble to propose legislation. New York has commercial vehicle safety laws on the books that were applied to the company involved. That doesn’t mean failures didn’t occur or tweaks aren’t needed, but claiming the luxury transportation industry and stretch limousines are largely unregulated is just false. You cannot stop every violation, even with a “cop on every corner” approach. A sensible question to ask after a major accident: What are the laws, and is government using its tax-acquired resources to adequately enforce them?


Legal status of provider:

Was the operation involved in an accident a legal, licensed one, or an illegal one? What is its safety paper trail? That’s a big factor, and once again, the onus lies with law enforcement and regulators as to why a certain state or region has illegal or rogue operators, not the industry. Most operators follow the laws and ensure good safety practices, if for the sole reason it’s good for business and can avoid catastrophic mistakes resulting in lawsuits and bankruptcy.

Preventing fatalities:

With enough force, no vehicle is 100% crash proof. In both the 2018 and 2015 New York stretch limousine crashes, traffic maneuvers and road safety were factors. What are the unique circumstances of a fatal crash? Beyond certain speeds, impacts can overwhelm any structure. Check out the YouTube video “semi v. SUV” to see what happens when a tractor trailer slams into a non-stretch big black SUV.

Stretch limousine construction:

The wider media is generally unaware of the Ford/Lincoln Quality Vehicle Modifier and Cadillac Master Coachbuilder stretch limousine programs. As I patiently tried to explain while taking a call from a hasty, agitated big paper editorial writer who kept interrupting me, the QVM and CMC standards are not recommended or voluntary standards for participating coachbuilders. They are required. OEMs visit the modifers to check that stretching standards, processes, and specs comply with the same Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that guide the automakers when building regular vehicles.

Program follow up:

I read one report that alleged even those stretch converters licensed by OEMs are not monitored after certification. Wrong. Coachbuilders get annual visits from inspectors to verify they maintain manufacturing standards.

Stretch stabilizers:

One veteran QVM coachbuilder told me he follows construction standards “over and above” what Ford requires. All major vehicle components must be adjusted and upgraded to handle the extra weight and size. Safe stretch limousines are built with additional B-pillars, horizontal tubing, and side intrusion beams or crash rails. As when constructing a bigger house, you use the right supporting materials. But no matter how well any vehicle is built, abuse, neglect, and overloads can render it unsafe.

More Airbags?

We’ve all heard the lectures on stretches needing side impact airbags. For the record, this QVM coachbuilder and a second one both told me it is structurally and financially near-impossible to develop, test, engineer, approve, and retrofit a one-size-fits-all customized side impact airbag for every variation of stretch limousine model. Designing side impact bags for limousines would involve a more complicated process than the one for front and side airbags on regular vehicles. Even if possible after years of testing and development, overall costs would make stretch limousines too expensive.

Seatbelts:

If a car comes with seatbelts, you have to put them back in after modifying, and install one for every seat, the coachbuilder told me. Most stretches and limo buses now come with seatbelts. You can remind, require, and instruct passengers all you want about buckling up. Unless you wire a vehicle not to roll without clicked belts, it’s up to passengers.

Limousine consumer awareness:

This is a chicken-egg scenario, but limousine customers need to do their online homework as we all do when buying services and products. Likewise, the limousine industry and operators should make every effort possible to provide PSAs and education on safe luxury vehicles, and why cheaper options can be risky.

Finally, I would like to praise the operators who stepped up to the local media plate in the crash aftermath and helped set the record straight about stretch transportation by citing the above points or similar ones. Why clam up and let misinformed influencers define your livelihood? Stick up for the facts and get your voices of reason out there.

Note: This version was updated from the print column in the December issue.

Related Topics: accidents, fatalities, handling the media, law enforcement, LCT editor, limo crashes, Martin Romjue, media, New York operators, regulatory enforcement

Martin Romjue Editor
Comments ( 1 )
  • James R.

     | about 1 day ago

    Martin, thank you for taking the time (unlike most of the media outlets today) to provide a great fact-based summary of the legal case regarding limousine operators. My wife and I are one such example, and we field calls from customers almost daily about the misinformation they're seeing on TV and reading in articles that is just flat wrong.

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