Editor’s Note: We recently sat down with Howard Gogel, Board Member of Limousine Association of New Jersey (LANJ) and Executive Director of Be Safe Rides and David Bakare, President and Owner of Executive Coach Builders in Springfield, MO to get their insights on the state of the ground transportation industry.
Dignitaries and celebrities wouldn’t be driven in limousines if the vehicles were unsafe. While the horrific limo crash in upstate New York is still under investigation, the stretch SUV was an anomaly.
Roughly twenty-years ago, the vehicle was a Ford SUV. Then, it was modified by a third-party. The driver didn’t have the needed Class B commercial driver’s license to transfer more than 12 –people in the vehicle that failed Department of Safety (DOT) inspections, had a faulty suspension, chassis and braking systems, and was not Quality Vehicle Modified (QVM).
How do Stretch Limos Differ from Other Livery Vehicles?
“It’s important to differentiate stretch vehicles from other types of limousines, such as, SUV’s, Lincoln MKT Town Cars, Cadillac XTS, Cadillac Escalade, and Chrysler 300’s which must be compliant with the same federal safety regulations that apply to conventional vehicles,” said Howard Gogel, Board Member of Limousine Association of New Jersey and Executive Director of Be Safe Rides.
Federal crash data compiled by The Associated Press shows there were seven limo crashes in 2015 and two in 2016. There were just 12 crashes involving large limos in the five years for which the agency has released statistics.
Twelve people were killed in limo crashes in that span, 2012 through 2016. Over the same period, 171,508 people were killed in 157,451 crashes involving all types of vehicles reported The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. – Associated Press, October 2018.
“Ford and General Motors make their Lincoln MKT Town Car and Cadillac sedans. Custom limo manufacturers make stretches which are heavily regulated. Stretch limousines are far and few between. Last year, there were roughly 500 stretch limos on the road,” said David Bakare, President and Owner of Executive Coach Builders in Springfield, MO.
A 25-year industry veteran, Bakare says his vehicles must be evaluated by Ford Motor Company and adhere to Quality Vehicle Modifier (QVM) standards including engineering, manufacturing and quality control. Compliance standards include all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Standards (FMVSS), Ford and Lincoln industry guidelines, annual facility inspection and review, and a commitment to continuous improvement
Currently, the policies in-place coincide with the on-going changes of the QVM program and of the conversion industry. The following provides a general overview of the QVM program requirements for new applicants and related conversion information for the Lincoln MKT Town Car. Complete conversion information is contained in the latest QVM Limousine/Hearse Builders Guide: Special Vehicle Engineering Commercial Vehicles.
For 2018-2019, Ford QVM Program Qualification Requirements include, but are not limited to the following:
A Prospective QVM Applicant Must:
- Submit a written request stating their desire to be considered for QVM program approval with detailed information
- Provide vehicle model, length, seating, doors, weight of driver, passengers and luggage
- Proposed product design, compliance, purpose, intent, supporting data, group and crash test data
- Undergo on-site inspection, six-month inspections, calibrations, mandatory probation period, wheelbase extension length, fuel system, frame extension, exhaust, suspension, tires.
Seat Belts Save Lives
Another issue is many people don’t wear seat belts. Seat belts dramatically reduce the risk of death and serious injury. Seat belts prevent drivers and passengers from being ejected during a crash. More than 3 out of 4 people who are ejected during a fatal crash die from their injuries, states the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Motor Vehicle Safety (CDC).
Of the 12- people killed in limo accidents between 2012 – 2016 (the most recent years available excluding the Schoharie crash), federal data show they were not wearing seat belts, said Russ Vader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
2 On Your Side investigated New York state laws in regards to seat belts in limousines. New York State occupant restraint laws say that a limo is considered a livery vehicle. In livery vehicles, it is the law that you must wear a seatbelt in the driver or passenger seats.
The Federal Motor Vehicle Standards
All cars in the United States must meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). Once a conversion company adds weight to the original vehicle, the former FMVSS tests are void, and the company must conduct new tests to prove its limousines meet federal standards.
The conversion company becomes the manufacturer of the vehicle known as Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM) and the General Motors Cadillac Master Coachbuilder (CMC) programs.
For consumers and business executives, ground transportation choices include subways, buses, bikes and ride-hailing app-based companies like Uber, Lyft, Via, Gett and taxis. Other options are SUV’s, Lincoln MKT Town Cars, Cadillac XTS, Cadillac Escalade, and Chrysler 300’s (which can be used as “limos”). Each service has its pros and cons.
Subways and Buses
Subways and buses are overcrowded, have delays, can require standing which is difficult for people with injuries, handicaps and the elderly. Spectrum News NY 1 reports: Of the 472 subway stations in the city, only 118 of them are considered accessible stations.
Nolan Ryan Trowe, a member of the disabled community says the city isn’t made for disabled people. He’s had to ask police officers to help him down the stairs with his wheelchair in stations that do not have elevators.
Also, nearly one-third of subway cars are more than 30 years old. While subways and buses can take longer to get to a destination, these services are typically less costly. However, the MTA is proposing fare and toll hikes in January 2019.
The MTA has laid out two options, the first of which would keep the base fare for subway and bus rides at $2.75 but would more sharply increase weekly and monthly passes. The second option would raise the base fare to $3 but would add better bonuses for passes. As for commuter rails (LIRR and Metro North), fares would also be going up about 4 percent.
The MTA is also suggesting increasing bridge tolls by double the usual hike, 8 percent, to fund capital projects. They are proposing both 4 percent and 8 percent increases, as well as a reduction of E-ZPass discounts.
A final vote is expected in January. – Eyewitness News ABC7NY, December 2018.
Similarly, bikes are impractical for people with handicaps, older people, and during the winter months. Also, they can be dangerous in large cities. More than half of all road traffic deaths are among vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. –World Health Organization, December 2018. But, cycling is good exercise, fun, and a way to make extra money by delivering food.
Ride-Hailing App-Based Companies
Ride-hailing companies are unregulated, drivers are misclassified as contractors rather than employees, use their own cars which are not for commercial use. Insurance and liability vary per state and there’s no central source to research. Accidents are the drivers’ responsibility with little oversight.
In, “When Your Boss is an Algorithm,” Algorithms manage what we do as passengers, by controlling and manipulating the information we have about the price and location of available cars. There are nearly a million active Uber drivers in the United States and Canada, and none of them have human supervisors. It’s better than having a real boss, one driver in the Boston area told me, “except when something goes wrong.”
When something does go wrong, Uber drivers can’t tell the boss or a co-worker. They can call or write to “community support,” but the results can be enraging.” – The New York Times, October 2018. But, they’re convenient, abundant, available and all you need is an app.
The requirements to become a taxi driver vary per state and city of residence, as well as the company for which they work. Drivers must submit their driving history report, receive criminal background checks, and in some states, pass a chauffeur’s licensing exam, undergo written and drug testing.
But, fleets are often in bad condition, have minimal legroom, and may only have $100,000 in liability insurance. Many drivers barely speak English. Generally, customer service is average. But, they’re easy to hail and are less expensive than ride-hailing services throughout many cities nationwide.
“When I can find one, a taxi is my preferred mode of travel. But in May, the base fare rose to $2.50 from $2. Every tick of the meter (one-fifth of a mile) will cost 40 cents, up a dime. A trip to JFK from Manhattan will run $45, an increase of $10. The new JFK fare is nearly the same as what a private car service would cost. Suddenly, the comfort of a Lincoln Town Car is that much more tempting.” – New York Magazine, May 2018 (Fares are rising again in 2019).
Limousine companies have strict regulations, including in-person interviews, fingerprinting and background checks, drivers are employees and receive worker’s compensation, unemployment and are required to pay state and local taxes.
Employers must abide by the Department of Labor Laws which includes minimum wage law. Federal law requires each vehicle to have $1.5 million in liability insurance. All providers are licensed by the state, local and federal agencies which includes and operating license from the local town or state government with a federal I.D. number. While safe, they can be expensive.
Requirements to become a professional chauffeur vary by city and state. In general, prospects must meet state’s minimum age requirements, undergo a background check, have no criminal record, a clean driving history, obtain a chauffer’s license, apply for a commercial driver’s license, and complete on-the-job training.
Limousine-related casualties are rare and when they do happen it is typically due to passengers not wearing seat-belts or the limousines not being QVM-certified, as was the case with the tragic accident on October 6, 2018.
Most vehicle crashes, and most transportation-related injuries and fatalities, are caused by human errors. The answer to making your next venture safer is to make better decisions by putting safety front and center. — HG.org (a large network of independent law firms to make law, government and related professional information easily and freely accessible to the legal profession, businesses, and consumers.)