By Matt Daus
At the end of New York’s 2019 legislative session, close to a dozen pieces of legislation designed to crack down on stretch limousines were introduced in the state’s Senate and Assembly (they were referred to as “Baby Ugly” or “Little Big Ugly” in political circles). The bills were prompted by last year’s deadly Schoharie crash, which shed a light on the particularly lax regulations governing stretch limousines. While the 2019-2020 budget passed back in April of this year tightened New York’s limousine laws with heightened penalties for safety violations by allowing the state to seize the plates of stretch vehicles that fail inspection, banning them from making U-turns, mandating GPS, and increasing insurance coverage, the Senate Transportation Committee’s recent hearings on limousine safety highlighted the need for additional safety measures.
Among the proposed legislative items introduced in “Baby Ugly” were bills targeted at stretches (and other vehicles designed or modified to carry more than nine people) that would make seatbelts and rollover bars mandatory. Other bills were aimed at drivers of these vehicles and would have required fingerprinting, drug and alcohol testing, and a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to drive altered vehicles, along with enhanced penalties for those drivers. In the end, only two bills passed both houses and are waiting to be “called up” by Governor Andrew Cuomo. As for the bills that did not make the cut this year, they could easily be re-introduced in the next legislative session. It is unclear which will actually be enacted, but change is underway.
The following bills passed and are awaiting the governor’s call-up:
Increased Penalties for Drivers for Traffic Violations: S-6188/A-8172 increases penalties for illegal U-turns, running red lights, and speeding with a stretch or other vehicle designed or modified to seat nine or more passengers including the driver. The bill expands the U-turn ban created in the 2019 budget to cover any commercial passenger motor carrier with a seating capacity of nine or more passengers, and increases the penalties to less than $250 and/or a maximum of 15 days in jail for the first offense, with additional increased penalties if there are passengers in the vehicle, and for repeat violations within 18 months. The same penalties apply for running a red light with a vehicle that seats more than nine passengers. Chauffeurs convicted of speeding are subject to the enhanced penalty scheme that currently applies to repeat offenders. The enhanced penalties apply regardless of whether the driver transports passengers for compensation.
Mandatory GPS for Limousines: S-6187/A-8171 requires stretches to use commercial GPS technology specifically designed to assist navigation of commercial vehicles, which includes finding routes that accommodate the minimum clearance and turning radius of the vehicle, and which can transmit certain real-time data to the chauffeur’s employer. For this law’s purposes, “stretch limousine” is defined as an altered vehicle having a seating capacity of nine or more passengers, including the driver, transporting passengers for compensation.
What didn’t make the cut this year? Many bills below seek to enact licensing standards already in place for drivers and vehicles in NYC regulated by the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC); some of these requirements seek to expand the rigorous licensing standards for limousines that exist in NYC to all other parts of the state.
Limousine Chauffeur Requirements
Driver Drug & Alcohol Testing: S-6186/A-712 requires chauffeurs of any for-hire vehicle with seating a capacity of nine or more persons, including the driver, undergo both pre-employment and random drug and alcohol testing. It would also prohibit motor carriers from requiring or allowing chauffeurs to operate a vehicle if they appear to be under the influence.
Fingerprinting: S-6190B/A-3286 requires that applicants for a taxicab, limousine, commuter van, paratransit, or for-hire vehicle driver or owner licenses for vehicles transporting nine or more passengers must be fingerprinted by the authority issuing such licenses to secure criminal history records from both the state division of criminal justice services and the FBI.
Commercial Driver’s License Required: S-6192 changes license requirements for stretches so a CDL (P endorsement) will be required to operate an altered vehicle seating nine or more passengers including the driver. A CDL is required even if the driver does not transport passengers for hire.
Seatbelt & Rollover Protection Devices: S-6191 require that vehicles designed or modified to carry nine or more people for compensation must have lap and shoulder seatbelts and rollover protection devices, such as cages or pillars, and anti-intrusion bars.
NEWS ALERT: Daus recently authored a comprehensive research article about the implications of the Schoharie crash and the history of limousine regulations in the TR News 321 May/June 2019 Issue, which can be purchased at https://bit.ly/2L6VzAV.Impounding Stretches with Certain Defects: S-6193 allows the New York State Department of Transportation (NYS DOT) commissioner to immobilize or impound stretch limousines that have an out-of-service defect or a horn-related defect until it is fixed. Vehicle owners will be entitled to a hearing on the impoundment.
Limousine Business Licensing
NYS DOT Operating Authority: S-6192 amends the transportation law so limousines carrying nine or more passengers for hire will be considered commercial vehicles required to obtain operating authority from NYS DOT. The law lowers the current seating capacity threshold for CMVs excluded from the definition of “sedan” from 11 to nine persons.
Government & Regulatory Administration
Hotline to Report Safety Issues: S-6185/A8214 requires NYS DOT to establish a hotline, website, and app to report safety and customer service issues with stretches. They and other vehicles designed or modified to seat nine or more people will be required to display signs informing passengers how to report issues to NYS DOT. The bills also require NYS DOT to develop a rating system so customers can assess companies.
Stretch Limousine Passenger Safety Task Force: S-6189 establishes a Passenger Safety Task Force for stretch limousines. The 20-member force will be required to issue a report and make recommendations regarding: enhanced coordination and uniformity between NYS DOT and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) regarding regulating stretches; uniform chauffeur safety training programs and increasing the minimum age to operate a stretch limousine; extending current federal regulations that apply to bus drivers to stretch limousines; establishing vehicle age limits for stretches; and additional safety measures, including prohibiting stretch limousine chauffeurs from making U-turns or using hands-free devices, mandatory safety features, having NYS-owned and operated inspection stations, and random spot vehicle inspections.
So what’s next? There is a clear willingness to pass laws to help prevent another tragedy like the Schoharie crash, making the likelihood of further regulation in the next legislative session high. While the Federal government has not completed its investigation into the Schoharie crash just yet, this has not stopped state legislators and the governor from acting in New York to close loopholes and heighten safety and accountability requirements.
While Governor Cuomo noted that there may be jurisdictional restrictions on what New York can regulate for vehicles that are already regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in terms of going beyond federal requirements, Albany is clearly committed to making big changes. Coordination among the NYS DOT, DMV, FMCSA, TLC may create additional regulatory requirements, coupled with both concurrent and possibly conflicting jurisdictions.
For many years, NYS DOT registered stretch limousines as buses. This happened as a result of super-stretch coachbuilders trying to evade the passage of laws in the early 2000s by the New York City Council and TLC, which I drafted and passed when I was the TLC Chair, to reign in non-certified stretched limousines. The state is now drawing a distinction between vehicles that are manufactured to seat more than nine passengers and vehicles that are altered or modified to do so. Almost every state in the U.S., including New York, has passed laws in the past several years loosening and deregulating sedan service provided by TNCs, while vehicle regulation of larger for-hire vehicles is going in the opposite direction. The disparities and complexity continues.
Matt Daus is a partner with the Law Firm Windels Marx, president of IATR, and a leading authority on ridesharing apps. He can be reached at email@example.com.