How Safe Are Stretch Limousines?

Limos can be converted to accommodate more people.

People rent a stretch limousine when they in a celebratory mood. Whether it is a wedding or a birthday, a stretch limousine allows you to pack as many partiers into one car. Plus having a designated driver eliminates the dangers of partygoers partaking in drinking and driving.

And while limousines are typically safe, only one death per 34,439 fatal accidents in 2016, USA Today reports, a recent tragedy shined the light on safety. In the last five years, only 12 large limousines were involved in crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Time reports.

But despite the overall safety of limos, the industry remains largely unregulated. This is troubling in light of what is considered to be the deadliest transportation accident in a decade according to CNN.  In the October 2018 accident, 17 passengers in the car were killed. The driver and bystanders brought the death toll to 20.

In light of the recent tragedy, why are transportation experts concerned about stretch limos?

Lack of regulations are concerning

Some stretch limos may present issues if they are converted. Typical transportation protections are not available in a converted stretch limousine. “It’s like playing in the World Cup,” Raul Arbelaez, an engineer with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety told The New York Times, “and leaving the goalie box open.”

Which protections are missing? Some include side-impact airbags, reinforced rollover protection bars, and accessible emergency exits, CNBC reports. In 2013, five women died when a fire broke out inside their stretch limo and the doors could not be opened from the inside, according to The New York Times. After the fatal accident, California enacted tighter regulations, including escape windows and annual safety inspections.

Additionally, driver qualifications may not be scrutinized due to lack of regulation. For instance, the driver of the limo in the October 2018 accident, “did not have the appropriate driver’s license to be operating that vehicle,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo, CNN reports.

Conversion processes compromise safety

Factory-built stretch limos are required to meet strict safety regulations. However, regulatory oversight is not available for converted vehicles, according to CNBC. A grand jury in a 2015 limo crash found vehicles that are converted to limos may eliminate safety features. “Without sufficient safety standards in place, it is nothing but a fine line between a stretch limousine and a hearse,” Thomas Spota, the Suffolk County district attorney said, according to The New York Times.

Unfortunately, many stretch limos on the street are Franken-creations. The vehicle is cut in half and then lengthened by up to 10 feet, according to The New York Times. Converters add panels, bolts and do some welding. This is done without any state inspection.

Making a U-turn is problematic

The vehicle design creates an issue when making a U-turn. The 2015 stretch limo fatal accident occurred when the driver was making a U-turn. It was hit broadside by a pickup truck, The New York Times reports. Also, a number of videos show how U-turns can cause traffic complications.

How to be safe when renting a limo

Ask if the vehicle you are renting is converted from a car. In an unregulated industry, a converted vehicle will not come with important safety features such as airbags and seat belts for all passengers. Request the driver’s credentials and license. Also, check the vehicle for seatbelts, airbags and ensure you can open doors in the back from the inside.