It was an accident almost too horrific to comprehend, but very sadly it was all too real. Seventeen people celebrating a birthday in a stretch SUV limo, their driver, and two pedestrians in a parking lot lost their lives in a tragic crash in upstate New York near Albany on October 6, 2018. It was the worst transportation-related accident in the country since a 2009 airplane crash that left 50 people dead.

What Happened?

A 2001 Ford Excursion limousine was headed down steep Route 30 South in Schoharie, when it barreled through a stop sign at the bottom of the hill—at the T- intersection of Route 30 South and Route 30A—and into the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store & Café. The limo struck an unoccupied vehicle and two people, who were among the fatalities.

Around a decade ago, the intersection was reconfigured from a Y to a T by the New York State Department of Transportation because of safety concerns. There had been problems with tractor-trailers losing their brakes on the hill and they have since been banned from using the route. Since the reconfiguration of the intersection, there have been four accidents there.

But was the intersection to blame? We don’t know. As the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and New York State Police continues, more details about what caused the accident will be discovered.

However, officials say that the modified SUV limo had failed a state safety inspection the prior month. The modifications to the limo involved essentially taking an existing SUV, cutting it in half and extending the body. Limos coming off factory production lines are required to meet strict safety regulations. When vehicles are modified, safety features may no longer be in place.

Additionally, officials say that the limo driver was not licensed to drive such a vehicle. According to a New York State Police press release:

“In New York State, a limo with 15 or more seats available, excluding the driver, falls under the definition of a bus and requires a Passenger endorsement ‘P.’ The operator of the limo involved in the collision required the ‘P’ endorsement, which the driver did not possess.”

Was it poor road design, driver error or vehicle malfunction that led to the crash? Or was it a combination of these things? We don’t yet know, but in any case, it is wise to do your homework before renting a limousine.

What to Know Before Renting a Limousine

The crash victims in the limo were visiting breweries and wineries to celebrate a birthday. They had done the right thing by taking alternative transportation instead of drinking and driving. Still, what should have been a happy celebration ended in horror for the celebrants, their driver, two innocent pedestrians and the families and friends of all of the unfortunate victims.

Here are some things to do to help ensure your ride is safe and happy:

  • Perform an internet search of the limo company. Try to find out how long the company has been in business, what kind of vehicles they use, and the company’s reputation among previous passengers.
  • Contact the Better Business Bureau to check for complaints or other red flags on the company.
  • Ask questions: What is the company’s safety record? What is the vehicle’s maintenance record? Does the company use modified limos? Is the company insured? Are drivers properly trained and licensed? If a company does not want to answer your questions or is evasive, move on.
  • Find out whether the company’s limos have seat belts for passengers. While 28 states require limo passengers to wear seatbelts, New York is not one of them—only drivers must wear seatbelts. However, buckling up can save a life.

If you have a question about a motor vehicle accident or need the services of an experienced accident attorney, the professionals at Kaplan Law are available for you to contact 24/7.