Twenty people were killed recently when a limousine barreled through a
stop sign and crashed in upstate New York. It was the deadliest transportation
crash in the United States since 2009, and an extraordinary number of
deaths for a land motor vehicle case. Numbers that high usually come from
aircraft or train crashes.
The 20 people killed consisted of 17 limo passengers, along with the limo
driver and two pedestrians. The specific cause of the crash is still being
The 17 passengers apparently arranged for transportation so they could
visit a brewery and celebrate a birthday. They were, as many have already
pointed out, doing the right thing by having a designated driver instead
of drinking and driving.
Many people decide to hire a transportation company and a driver with a
commercial license because their services come with certain safeguards.
Commercial drivers have additional training and are supposed to drive
with greater skill. Transportation companies are supposed to have regular
vehicle inspections and regular maintenance. Many states require transportation
companies to carry large insurance policies to cover the services they provide.
Unfortunately, the decision to use a commercial transportation company
did not prevent a tragedy in New York. The transportation company, Prestige
Limousine, has a troubling safety record. It’s been reported that
the limo driver did not have the proper license; that the limo involved
in the crash had failed an inspection last month and shouldn’t have
been on the road; and that Prestige had multiple failed vehicle inspections
in the past. If these reports are true, then Prestige was gravely irresponsible
and its owners could face criminal charges.
People might reasonably wonder how this could happen when there are so
many rules in place to prevent it. The sad reality is that there is only
so much that regulators or law enforcement officers can do. Companies
which fail safety inspections can be cited or penalized, but officials
have to follow specific criteria before shutting down a company completely.
The “death penalty” is generally reserved for the most serious
and repeated violations.
There are even some companies which defy the directives they do receive.
While an inspection may put a vehicle “out of service,” police
don’t have the manpower to watch and prevent every vehicle from
going back out on the road. To some extent, they have to rely on the good
faith of transportation companies to obey lawful orders. A company which
flouts the law may get away with it - for a while. The risk of being caught
and seriously punished might not outweigh the temptation to put a dangerous
vehicle back on the road for profits.
Let’s hope this terrible New York crash triggers a renewed emphasis
on safety. Some crashes will always happen, but there’s reason to
believe that stricter enforcement can prevent deaths and injuries. In
the meantime, people who use transportation services should not be under
any illusions. There are indeed some bad apples out there, and as the
old saying goes, buyers should beware.