The National Limousine Association (NLA) recently shared an alert with its membership from the National Transportation Safety Board after concluding an investigation into the Schoharie, New York, accident in 2018. The accident claimed the lives of 20, including the chauffeur and two pedestrians. The event captured national headlines and spurred numerous bills and increased regulations in the state of N.Y. in the months following the horrific scene. The report stresses the importance of operating a mechanically and structurally sound vehicle, as the older stretched SUV involved in the incident had failed numerous safety inspections prior to operation and has been officially placed out-of-service by the state. The alert was originally posted here.
People often use limousines to celebrate significant moments in their lives—a prom, a wedding, or a special night out with friends. For one group of friends, it was a time to celebrate a 30th birthday. However, the happy moment turned tragic on Saturday, October 6, 2018, when the 2001 Ford Excursion XLT stretch limousine that they had chartered crashed, taking the lives of 20 people.
The stretch limousine, operated by Prestige Limousine and Chauffeur Service, was traveling south on New York State Route 30 (NY-30) near Schoharie, New York. The limousine was descending a hill toward the T-intersection of NY-30A/NY-30A when the brake system failed, and the vehicle’s speed increased to over 100 mph. The limo went past a stop sign, crossed the intersection, and entered the driveway of a restaurant. It struck an unoccupied Toyota Highlander SUV, driving it into two pedestrians. The limousine continued across the edge of the driveway and into a ravine, where it struck several trees and an earthen embankment. As a result of the crash, all 18 limousine occupants and the 2 pedestrians died.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of the Schoharie, New York, crash was Prestige Limousine and Chauffeur Service’s egregious disregard for safety, in dispatching a stretch limousine with an out-of-service order for a passenger charter trip, resulting in the failure of its brake system while descending the steep grade of NY-30.
The proper maintenance of any vehicle is vital to safe transportation. But another key factor is the construction of the vehicle. The crash limousine was originally a 2001 Ford Excursion SUV that was converted into a limousine by cutting it into two pieces and inserting an additional 144 inches of frame rail. This stretched the vehicle’s wheelbase from 137 inches to 281 inches, making it approximately 30 feet long. The additional length allowed the seating capacity to be increased from 8 to 18 occupants, including the driver. The limousine’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) increased from 8,600 pounds to 13,080 pounds.
“When examining the Schoharie limousine, NTSB investigators found that it was altered beyond the vehicle-build specifications issued by Ford Motor Company, which limited the wheelbase stretch to 120 inches, the occupant capacity to 10, and the maximum GVWR to 9,900 pounds.”
Changes to a vehicle’s structure and weight can affect whether it complies with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) and can even change the vehicle’s classification. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires all manufacturers and companies that alter vehicles to be registered with the agency. The company 21st Century Coachworks, which performed the alterations on the Schoharie crash limousine, was not registered as required by NHTSA.
NHTSA requires companies that make changes to vehicles (commonly called vehicle alterers) to assume legal responsibility for the FMVSSs certification of the altered vehicle. NHTSA further requires vehicle alterers to display on each altered vehicle a label certifying that the vehicle complies with FMVSSs requirements; the certification label must show the vehicle’s completion date, its GVWR, and its gross axle weight rating. As noted above, the NTSB investigators of the Schoharie crash determined that the alterer of the 2001 Ford Excursion SUV was not registered with NHTSA. Further, no certification label was located on the limousine.
Why is this important to you? As a responsible limo charter company, you can ensure that your vehicles are safe by only purchasing vehicles that comply with the FMVSSs. Vehicles in their factory state are confirmed to be in compliance. However, vehicles that were altered may require additional FMVSSs testing and analysis to ensure that they will provide a minimum level of safety for your employees and customers.
The presence of the certification label is the primary way for you and your customers to know that an altered vehicle is FMVSS-compliant. The absence of a certification label is a red flag. When examining the Schoharie limousine, NTSB investigators found that it was altered beyond the vehicle-build specifications issued by Ford Motor Company, which limited the wheelbase stretch to 120 inches, the occupant capacity to 10, and the maximum GVWR to 9,900 pounds. The fact that the Schoharie crash limousine had been altered beyond this level of modification meant that the vehicle did not comply with the FMVSSs testing and analysis conducted by Ford Motor Company. Likewise, no secondary certification label was found on the vehicle.
The NTSB recommends that limousine companies ensure a minimum level of safety for the altered vehicles they purchase by (1) only purchasing vehicles that pass a structural and mechanical safety inspection, (2) obtaining from the alterer an engineer’s certification that the altered vehicle meets all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards affected by the alteration, and (3) ensuring that a secondary certification label is affixed to the limousine before purchase.
Additional information about the limousine collision that occurred in Schoharie, New York, including the full crash report, can be found on the NTSB website, under “Investigations,” as the highway accident report NTSB/HAR-20/03.
Visit limo.org for more information about the NLA.