A horrific limousine accident in the Bay Area five years ago helped make stretch limos safer in California.
Five women riding to a bachelorette party died inside a Lincoln Town Car May 4, 2013, on the San Mateo Bridge near San Francisco.
They were trapped inside the limo when it caught fire. As a result, California lawmakers now require additional exits on stretch limousines.
Limousines can have an extra, fifth door, and either two pop-out emergency window exits or a rooftop escape hatch.
Older stretch limos with only four doors must have the two pop-out windows and a rooftop escape hatch.
Passengers must be able to open that fifth door, at all times.
“That way, if there’s an accident and the driver is disabled, the passengers are able to get out on their own,” said Ryan Silva, owner of Epic Transportation and Limousine in San Diego.
The pop-up roof hatch and emergency window exits can save lives if the limo’s doors won’t open.
“Sometimes you’re in an accident in which the (limo) frame or body will twist in a way that the doors are hard to open,” Silva explained. “So in that case, you have an exit on the roof."
A horrific limo crash that killed 20 Sunday in New York is serving as a reminder customers to exercise due diligence when signing rental agreements with companies.
Silva said the California Highway Patrol routinely inspects limousines and party buses, checking the vehicle’s brakes, tires and mechanical systems.
“They (the CHP) also go through our paperwork to make sure our drivers are drug tested before they're hired, that they're randomly drug tested (after hiring), and that their past history does not include accidents or drug problems."
Before you sign a contract with a limousine or party bus company, you should confirm that it has a valid state permit and liability insurance. That information is available on the California Public Utilities Commission website.
Silva strongly suggests you also visit the limo company's business address and check out the vehicle you want to rent before signing a contract.
"Does it look like it's in good repair? Are the tires in good shape?” said Silva. “A website makes you look like a million dollar company. But once you go to that operation, you'll know quickly if that's a vehicle that you want to get in or not."
Silva said the cost of compliance with state safety regulations has put some San Diego limousine companies out of business.
He said other companies try to cut costs by not complying those new laws.
That's why Silva stresses the importance of checking a limo company's license and insurance and seeing the vehicle before you sign a contract.