Be careful how your company presents and implements a “Zero Tolerance” policy.
In the aftermath of one of the deadliest limousine crashes in U.S. history, the emerging details of the accident underscore how the company linked to the crash is not typical or representative of the limousine industry.
The company involved in the accident, Prestige Limousine of Gansevoort, N.Y., and its owner are not listed members of the National Limousine Association. LCT events registration records indicate the company owners never attended any LCT trade shows or conferences.
As has been widely reported, the company was managed out of an upstate New York motel, does not have a website, and since the accident has disconnected its phone and taken its handful of vehicles off the road. Its owner, a former FBI informant in terrorism cases, is reportedly out of the country, and his son was just arrested and charged with criminal negligent homicide in connection with the crash. Past online customer reviews posted on social media enumerate harsh complaints about the company’s customer service.
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It is not known if the 2001 MY Ford Excursion super-stretch limousine involved in the accident was modified under the Ford/Lincoln Qualified Vehicle Modifiers (QVM) program, which defines the highest standards of safety and manufacturing for the limousine industry. The Excursion SUV model, retired after 2005, was once part of the QVM program in the early 2000s, which means a Ford-certified coachbuilder would have been allowed to stretch it up to 140 inches. (QVM limousine sedan and crossover models can be stretched up to 120 inches). It was not known which coachbuilder cut and stretched the crashed limousine. Since 2001, the limousine industry has weathered two recessions that shook up the coachbuilding sector with many QVM and non-QVM modifiers going out of business.
Eric Weiss, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, D.C., told LCT Wednesday the investigation has not yet determined the manufacturer of the limousine, how much it had been stretched, or the maximum allowable passengers for that particular stretch model. The NTSB generally issues a preliminary accident report based on an initial analysis from the on-the-scene investigators within two weeks after an accident, he said. A more thorough factual report based on all details gathered is released later depending on the timeline of the investigation. The NTSB does not release the cause of an accident at the crash scene.
Most limousine operations no longer run 17-year-old super-stretch limousines like the one involved in the Oct. 6 crash. The numbers of such stretches have collectively declined as more clients prefer the luxury vans, minibuses, limo buses, and motorcoaches that now amply populate and define luxury transportation fleets, along with the traditional sedans and SUVs. Even the stretch limousine itself no longer characterizes the “limousine” industry, now more commonly referred to as luxury or chauffeured transportation.
In fact, many operations either run a handful of stretch limousines or none at all, and those that do use far more recent model year versions, most notably the Lincoln MKT Town Car stretch. Out of the approximate 7,000 limo and bus vehicles built and sold to the industry in 2016, the last year for which LCT has production numbers, only 475 of the vehicles were stretches, according to the 2017 LCT Fact Book. The average number of stretches in the typical limousine fleet in 2016 and 2015 — when factoring companies of all fleet sizes — was only three, which ranks lower than average counts for sedans, SUVs, and the fleet vehicle category that includes vans/minibuses/coaches.
The group that died in the crashed limo had reserved a minibus, but it broke down on the way to pick them up and the company sent them the Excursion super-stretch instead, according to media reports.
While inspection records are pointing toward past brake problems and inspection failures on the crashed limousine, the National Transportation Safety Board has yet to release an exact cause of the accident. No skid marks were visible at the scene, according to multiple media reports.
“Gov. Andrew Cuomo nailed it on the head. He got it exactly right,” said Jeff Rose, president of the Limousine Association of New York and president of Attitude New York, a 45-vehicle high-end luxury service in New York City. “He said we have sufficient and appropriate regulations in place. This is an issue of non-compliance. Had the current regulations been followed, the vehicle would not have been on the road, and the driver not driving without a CDL (commercial) license. Kudos to the governor for a proper assessment of the situation.”
NLA President Gary Buffo has referred national media inquiries to the group’s New York-based public relations firm, EVINS. On Oct. 9, the NLA issued an advisory to its membership through EVINS that stated: “While many details concerning the cause of the crash are not available or unconfirmed, we do know that the loss of life was immense, and the lasting impression will be felt across our industry for a long time to come.”
The advisory to its 1,200+ members also included a prepared statement from Buffo: “The Board and the management of the National Limousine Association were devastated to learn of the tragedy that took place in Schoharie, NY on the afternoon of Oct. 6, 2018. Inquiries should be directed to local and state authorities and to the National Transportation Safety Board. Our thoughts and our prayers are with all those affected.”
Legal, established operators across the U.S are speaking up and vouching for industry best safety practices and regulatory compliance in interviews with media outlets:
Timothy H. Delaney, senior vice president of Lancer Insurance of Long Beach, N.Y., one of the limousine industry’s leading insurers, told LCT he regrettably could not comment on the accident or related safety and compliance practices on advice of the company’s attorneys. (Lancer is not the insurer of the crashed limousine).
Rose, the LANY president, pointed out that no regulatory framework can be 100% successful.
“I’m not sure greater enforcement will yield greater results because generally those who are not in compliance find ways to fly under the radar,” Rose said. “Consumers have to be aware, and would be well served, that they really have to be careful when picking their provider. Even proper regulation and proper enforcement is no guarantee of compliance. This is an example of that.”
One idea that could help the traveling public in choosing limousine services would be a state database where consumers can get real time information about a vehicle by entering in a license plate number, Rose said. The database would list the inspection and safety records of each limousine fleet vehicle licensed and registered in the state.
Rose underscored the relevance of the NLA’s RideResponsibly.org program that seeks to educate the public on the duty-of-care advantages chauffeured transportation offers and the importance of choosing providers based on safety.
“Not all safety issues are related to mechanical things,” Rose said. “In light of this tragedy, I think the consumer will be much more involved. Whether buying food or medical care or anything in life with risk, the consumer has to be diligent. There’s just no substitute for diligence. The industry and regulatory bodies can also do a better job of making information more easily accessible.”
For operators, the tragic accident is a reminder of how safety undergirds every aspect of operations and ultimately determines the quality of a luxury transportation service.
"The news of the tragic limo fatalities is horrible PR for our business," said H.A. Thompson, owner of Rose Chauffeured Transportation and Rose Charters in Charlotte, N.C. "The New York limo company was very slack in its operations and there are many operators who cut corners in this business and you can pay a horrible price. That is why we stress safety at every minute. Vehicles that are clean and serviced. That is why you should never take risks; play by the rules and regulations because when you do that it sets us apart from the run of the mill transportation companies."
Rose employs a full time safety officer who constantly reminds chauffeurs and drivers of rules and best practices.
"We all know you shouldn’t speed, so don’t do it," Thompson told LCT. "Look before backing, even if you have to get out of the vehicle. We spend a lot of money on vehicle video cameras to prove or disprove mistakes. Take every precaution and show this attitude to the customer."
Related Topics: accidents, criminal incidents, fatalities, Gary Buffo, Jeff Rose, Kevin Barwell, Lancer Insurance, law enforcement, LBTOUNY, limo crashes, Limousine Association of New York, National Limousine Association, New York operators, passenger safety, regulatory enforcement, Safety, state regulations
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