State lawmakers look at passing limo safety laws


If you count the limo fire in Walnut Creek, where there were no fatalities, you're looking at two incidents in six weeks. That has lawmakers concerned.

The limo fire that killed a bride and four friends on the San Mateo Bridge on May 4 is prompting swift action by state lawmakers to improve safety. They're appalled only a small window in partition separating the driver and main cabin was the only way out for the few survivors.

"This tragedy could have been prevented if there had only been an additional way to get out of the vehicle," said St. Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro.

The Assembly Transportation Committee approved SB 109, which requires limos carrying fewer than 10 people to have: two doors and two push-out windows in the rear of the cabin, passengers must be able to open all of them from the inside -- which rules out child safety locks that only the driver controls -- and safety instructions must be given, much like the airlines do before take-off.

While all new limos are to have the new escape modes starting in 2015, older ones will have two more years to make the changes. CHP thinks the proposal doesn't conflict with federal law, which regulates vehicles.

"There's no specific articulable fact or statute that enunciates what type of escape hatches, what type of configuration of windows, per se, or how to attach them in a limousine," said Avery Brown from the CHP.

The limo industry does want to improve safety, but wonders how it'll comply considering their entire fleet isn't necessarily all stretch vehicles.

"Most of our members, if not all of them, have town cars, Priuses, SUVs and what not, and we're not sure how those vehicles could comply with this legislation," Rob Grossglauser from the Greater California Livery Association.

Drivers also want to be able keep the child safety locks because sometimes drunk passengers try to get out of limo while it's moving.

"We're concerned that they will fall out into a roadway and have their safety put in jeopardy," said Grossglauser.

Another Bay Area limo fire two weekends ago is motivating lawmakers even more to get this proposal to the governor's desk quickly. Ten elderly women narrowly escaped that one with no injuries.

The Legislature is also considering a separate piece of legislation this week that mandates fire extinguishers in limos holding less than 10 passengers.

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