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Tuesday 11 December 2018
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Deadly Upstate NY Crash Puts Spotlight on Limo Safety

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In early October, a celebratory limo ride turned into a nightmare for the passengers that piled into a vehicle operated by Prestige Limousine. When the driver lost control of the poorly maintained car, it pummeled through an intersection and killed all 17 passengers, the driver, and two pedestrians in Schoharie, New York. Now, police are subjecting the company to immense scrutiny and legal charges — and the industry as a whole may have to spend some time under the microscope as a result.

While limousine drivers average 105 trips every single week, what happened in this accident was anything but typical. In fact, it’s now being called the deadliest transportation accident in the nation since a 2009 plane crash — which also took place in upstate New York — that resulted in 50 fatalities.

According to local residents, the stretch of road where the accident occurred is notoriously dangerous. And witnesses said that the limo was likely traveling over 60 miles per hour when it came over the hill and approached the intersection. While studies suggest that a .62 mile-per-hour decrease in traveling speed would reduce road crashes by 2-3%, speeding may not have been the only factor in the accident. The limo failed to come to a halt at the stop sign at the T-shaped intersection, and while attempts to improve that area have been made in the past, residents guess that it’s now more dangerous than it was before.

However, the limo company itself has now come under fire for negligence. The son of the owner of Prestige has been arrested for criminally negligent homicide in the wake of the crash. As one source told an ABC news affiliate, Nauman Hussain — who was left in charge of the company’s daily operations while his father was in Pakistan — allegedly allowed a non-licensed driver to operate a vehicle that was deemed defective.

The 2001 Ford Excursion limousine involved in the crash had apparently failed two inspections over the last seven months, including one that took place as recently as September 2018. While the vehicle was ordered to be taken off the road until the causes of those failed inspections were addressed, the company allegedly did not comply with the law. The latest inspection found that while the limo wasn’t certified to carry more than 10 occupants (including the driver), the car had 18 seats. The company was also cited for a dangling brake light, which could have made contact with one of the limo’s tires, and the fact that the hydraulic braking system warning light was on. The owner of Prestige was also faulted for not addressing problems from an earlier inspection in March; the report from that inspection noted that aforementioned brake warning light was illuminated and that the car’s braking system was not functioning properly. In addition, the rear emergency exit window and the right-side emergency door were inoperable. The average length of vehicle ownership has increased by 60% over the last decade; police reports show that not only did Prestige hold onto the vehicle but they also made little attempt to comply with safety regulations.

That’s notable in a state that’s known for some of the toughest limo regulations in the entire country. But while these regulations exist, they’re not always enforced adequately. The vehicle in question was modified from its original design; modified vehicles are still required to pass inspection in New York State. Clearly, Prestige had at least one vehicle in operation that did not pass inspection and one driver who did not obtain the proper licensing to operate a limo. Although sources say driver Scott Lisincchia had his chauffeur’s license, he reportedly did not have the right licensure in this case — a problem that ultimately comes down to Prestige’s negligence.

That said, it’s important not to lump all limo companies into the same category. There are plenty of reputable operators out there. But it’s essential for the customer to conduct thorough research on the owners, the drivers, and the vehicle fleet prior to signing an agreement. This tragedy could have very well been avoided, but with any luck, others can learn a tough lesson from these preventable deaths.