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How Safe Are “Stretch” Limousines?

As the New York State Police, the New York Department of Transportation, and the National Transportation Safety Board continue their investigations into the cause of the October 6, 2018 “ stretch limo” accident that killed 20 people near Schoharie (NY), questions have arisen regarding the safety of vehicles that have been converted accommodate as many as 20 passengers. In this post the commercial motor vehicle accident injury lawyer at The Doan Law Firm will provide a summary of the known safety issues involving “stretched” vehicles and how those issues could lead to accidental injuries.

What is a “stretch” limousine?

The Collins Dictionary defines a stretch limousine as

a limousine that has been lengthened to provide extra seating accommodation and more legroom … driven by a professional driver …

For the purpose of this post, we will consider a “stretch limousine” to beany vehicle whose passenger area has been lengthened to accommodate more passengers. This means that vehicles not usually considered to be “limousines”, such as minivans or SUVs, will be included in this discussion.

Historically, luxury vehicle models such as the Lincoln Continental and the Cadillac Fleetwood were available as “factory originals” that were custom-modified by their manufacturers to the specifications of the buyer. However, economic conditions in the late 1970s and early 1980s led both the Ford Motor Company (Lincoln) and General Motors (Cadillac) to stop accepting custom orders. Since that time, “stock” limousines have been purchased from the manufacturer and then modified according to the customer’s preferences by a third-party vehicle conversion company. Models that are produced in North America remain the most popular choices for conversion, although German (Mercedes-Benz and BMW) and Japanese (Toyota and Nissan) models are slowly making inroads into the American conversion market.

The vehicle conversion process

When a vehicle arrives at a conversion shop, its interior, drive train, brakes, and suspension are removed and the remaining vehicle is cut into two sections. A new, larger, passenger section is then welded into place. As the new interior is installed, a longer drive train is installed to accommodate the vehicle’s increased wheel-base (length) and new heavy duty brakes and suspension are added to compensate for the vehicle’s new weight, which is frequently several tons greater than that of the original vehicle.

Safety issues and stretch limousines

Safety concerns involving stretch limousines can be either due to the conversion process itself or due to the actions of the vehicle’s owner and/or driver. The most serious potential safety issues to arise at the time of conversion involve the vehicle’s brakes and its suspension.

When a vehicle is “stretched,” it will weigh several tons more than it did originally and will weigh even more when its passenger area is occupied by more than a dozen adults! If the original suspension (shocks, struts, etc.) isnot replaced with a system that is designed to accommodate heavy loads, a sudden suspension failure could lead to a loss of control by its driver. As serious as such a failure could be, it pales when compared to a brake failure.

Most factory-original brakes are never intended for use with heavier weight vehicles such as stretch limousines and similar conversions. If allowed to remain installed after a conversion, these brakes will rapidly wear out when stopping the vehicle in both stop and go traffic as well as at highway speeds. The sudden failure of its brakes appears to have been the cause of the recent 20-person fatality accident in Upstate New York.

Once a vehicle is delivered and placed in service, it becomes the duty of its owner to insure that it is safely maintained and regularly inspected. Unfortunately, some small-fleet operators have been known to “cut a few corners” when it comes to vehicle maintenance and safety issues, often with tragic results.

Contacting a stretch limousine accident injury lawyer

It would be very difficult to list all the safety violations that have been implicated in stretch limousine accidents. Instead, we will simply state that many such accidents could have been avoided if the vehicle conversion shop or the vehicle’s ownerhad not allowed an unsafe vehicle to transport passengers!

If you, or a family member, were injured in a stretch limousine accident, we invite you to contact the stretch limousine accident lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, a nationwide personal injury law practice with offices in major cities throughout the country, to arrange a free review of your stretch limousine accident case.

When you contact our firm, you initial consultation is always free of charge and does not obligate you in any way to hire us as your legal counsel. If you should decide that you would like for us to represent you in court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your stretch limousine injury case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.

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