Reminder after NY limo crash: NJ requires seatbelts in all cars
SCHOHARIE, N.Y. — If the limo involved in a crash that killed 20 people had been in New Jersey, everyone would have been been required to be wearing a seat belt.
Investigators in New York State have not said whether the limo occupants were wearing seat belts, given the speed of the limo or speculdate what caused the limo to run a stop sign at an intersection and slam into a parked SUV by the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said there were seat belts in the limo.
Seventeen people, the driver and two people outside the store were killed in Saturday's crash.
New Jersey state law requires every passenger vehicle, including vans, pickup trucks and SUVs, to be equipped with seat belts. All people at least 8 years old or 57 inches tall are required to wear them, including in the rear seats; all front-seat passengers must wear them as well. The driver is responsible for making sure any passengers under the age of 18 are wearing seat belts, and adults are considered responsible for themselves.
Given that the atmosphere in a limo is often lighthearted, it's a hard issue to enforce, according to Chris Palfy, safety director for A1 Limousine of Princeton. He worked for 25 years investigating accidents for the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office.
"We have limo buses that seat anywhere from 16 to 20 passengers. Those limo buses are outfitted with seat belts for every passenger allowed on there and we do encourage seat belt use," Palfy said, adding his company also advises against moving around the bus while it's in motion.
New York State law requires seat belt their use in the front seat of a passenger vehicle and not at all in a bus, except for school buses.
Palfy said his A1's vehicles are inspected routinely by the company and randomly by the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The company also does routine maintenance on its vehicles every 2,500 miles and drivers do a walk around inspection before and after a trip.
"If there's anything they feel is unsafe that they would not operate that vehicle, they will write that up on a sheet that goes to our service department and that vehicle would be taken out of service immediately," Palfy said.
Palfy said the stretch SUV used in New York has been phased out in favor of the party bus. Factory-built limousines must meet stringent safety regulations. But luxury cars converted to limos, like the one in Saturday's crash, often lack such safety components as side-impact air bags, reinforced rollover protection bars and accessible emergency exits.
Jay Velastegui, A1's director of operations, said state law requires every driver to be fingerprinted and put into a database that provides a certificate for the company to verify they are qualified to drive in the state.
"A driver can't even get on the road until they get that background check done. On top of that we do our own background check," Velastegui said. "At-fault accidents, distracted driving, too many points, speeding violations and things of that nature won't even allow you to get your foot in the door and to drive one of our vehicles"
New drivers also go out with A1's field service managers to each of the company's more common pickup points, including the airports.
"Everything is built around safety. It has to be because of what you saw happen a couple days ago.
The safety record of a limo or motor coach company is available at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website.