SCHOHARIE — A month after telling the National Transportation Safety Board that it would not take up recommendations for improving limousine passenger safety in the wake of the 2018 Schoharie limo crash that killed 20, the Trump administration says it is still looking into the matter and conducting its own investigation into the tragedy.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, informed the NTSB last month that it had no intention of requiring limousines to have rear passenger seatbelts after an NTSB safety report into the 2018 crash advocated for the federal government to adopt such regulations. New York adopted a similar rule earlier this year.
The NTSB report released last year concluded that none of the passengers in the stretch Ford Excursion involved in the Schoharie crash were wearing seatbelts at the time the limo crashed into a ditch next to the Apple Barrel Country Store in Schoharie on Oct. 6, 2018. The limo crashed after its brakes failed, killing all 17 passengers and the driver as well as two bystanders in the popular tourist attraction’s parking lot.
Although the seatbelts in the Excursion were not accessible to the passengers, the NTSB suggested some passengers could have survived had they been wearing properly installed seatbelts, noting that the limo’s passenger cabin was left mostly intact after the impact.
“The (NTSB) report does not show that belt use would have caused the passengers to survive such a high-severity crash,” James Owens, the acting administrator of the NHTSA, wrote the NTSB in a terse letter dated March 10. “The exceedingly severe nature of the Schoharie crash, including the detachment of seats from the bottom of the vehicle, prevents us from concurring with an assertion that the tragic outcome would have changed had there been belt use.”
After the NHTSA letter was first made public Monday in a story by the Times Union, New York’s Congressional delegation immediately called on Owens and the Trump administration to reverse course. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and others have been pushing legislation that would force the NHTSA to adopt new limo seatbelt regulations after the NTSB report was issued last fall.
In a letter to Owens, Schumer and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said they were “deeply distressed” by the NHTSA’s letter to the NTSB.
“The NTSB’s interim recommendations highlight the fact that certain vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating between 10,000 pounds and 26,000 pounds fall into a category that does not contain robust seatbelt regulations or standards, unlike vehicles below or above these weights,” the letter from Schumer and Gillibrand states. “NHTSA’s decision not to address this ‘limo loophole’ is baffling and dangerous for limousine passengers.”
Around the same time that Schumer and Gillibrand’s staff made the letter public Tuesday, the NHTSA appeared to soften its stance on at least looking more closely at the NTSB recommendations and revealed that it is also conducting its own investigation into the crash. The NTSB is also working on its own final version of its investigation that would reveal its version of the cause of the tragedy.
“The Schoharie crash of the 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine crash was a horrific, high-speed crash that tragically killed 20 people, including the driver,” the NHTSA said in a statement given to the Times Union on Tuesday. “NHTSA welcomes NTSB’s analysis of this tragedy, and continues to pursue its own special crash investigation of this crash and will determine if any necessary actions are required upon the completion of our investigation and analysis.”
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