For partiers of all ages, riding in a stretch limousine may seem like the epitome of luxury. Stretch limos are also regarded as a prudent way to party, with much less risk than drinking and driving. But a recent horrific stretch limousine accident that killed 20 people outside of Albany has raised many concerns about the vehicle’s safety.
As a recent New York Times story related, stretch limousines “usually do not have to meet arduous federal safety requirements, and they face a haphazard inspection system that varies from state to state.” So, there’s problem number one: few rules and scant enforcement. For example, the stretch limo that crashed outside Albany “had failed inspection [a month prior] and was deemed unfit for the road.”
Then, there’s the interior, which generally has the ambiance of a nightclub on wheels, discouraging patrons from buckling up, even when the vehicle reaches highway speeds. Impacts at that speed are not kind to bodies that are not restrained and protected by air bags. And, as the Times story notes, unrestrained passengers flying about a cabin can be a deadly hazard to passengers who are restrained. The lack of such protections is problem number two.
But perhaps the most vexing problem is the range of engineering issues introduced when an ordinary limousine is transformed into a stretch, which is generally 10 feet longer. The Albany crash vehicle was built as “a 2001 Ford Excursion that could seat nine people,” but it had been transformed to hold 18. What did that transformation entail?
As the Times article explains, a stretch is usually “a regular car or S.U.V. that has been cut in half, separating the front and rear. The body is extended on the top, bottom and sides. Additional seating is added, often along the sides.” This remanufacturing weakens the structural integrity of the vehicle and undoes specific federally mandated safety measures, such as side rollover pillars and air bags. So, standard features that protect the vehicle and its passengers in the event of a crash no longer exist.
The remanufactured vehicle is also less maneuverable due to its additional length, making it harder for the driver to avoid a crash, which is more likely to harm the car’s occupants. And as the article points out, the brakes and tires that were designed for a smaller vehicle can’t properly function when that vehicle’s mass is increased.
One irony is that people who share a stretch limo generally do so because of the affection they have for one another: they don’t want anyone left out, so they choose a vehicle that can transport them all. Why not ride in a party bus, which hasn’t been cut in half?