WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Wednesday said federal regulators should require lap and shoulder seat belts throughout limousines after probing a series of deadly crashes including one in October 2018 that killed 20 people.
The NTSB wants the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require lap and shoulder belts for all passengers on all new vehicles modified to be used as limousines and wants seating systems to meet minimum performance standards.
The NTSB said its findings considered limousines to have modified configurations, capacity for at least nine people and weight of more than 10,000 pounds.
The board is investigating the Oct. 6, 2018 crash of a stretch limousine in Schoharie, New York, that killed the driver, 17 passengers and two pedestrians.
The 2001 Ford Excursion involved in the crash was stretched 144 inches (3.66 meters), and the interior was reconfigured with perimeter-style bench seating. The three benches were equipped with only passenger lap belts.
Once the vehicle was modified it became the equivalent of a midsized bus, which meant it was no longer subject to some U.S. vehicle safety occupant, seat and seat belt standards that apply to traditional vehicles, the safety board said.
“It’s disheartening to learn that some passenger vehicles are legally on the road that don’t offer passengers well-designed seats and seat belts,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt in a statement. “All vehicle occupants should have the same level of protection, wherever they are seated.”
NHTSA said it “welcomes NTSB’s initial analysis to mark the one-year anniversary of this tragedy, and the agency looks forward to reviewing the full investigation, data, and analysis when they are complete.”
The NTSB found the side- and rear-facing bench seats in the New York crash failed in the direction of the crash forces and that the strength of these seats and their anchorages was inadequate during the crash. None of the passengers appeared to have been wearing passenger lap or lap-shoulder belts at the time of the crash.
Prosecutors in New York have charged Nauman Hussain, a 29-year-old who ran the limousine company at the time of the crash, with criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter. Trial is pending.
The limo, carrying 17 people on their way to a birthday party, ran a stop sign at a highway intersection at high speed and crashed into an unoccupied parked car and two pedestrians before coming to a halt in a shallow ravine.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said last year the limousine involved in the crash had failed a recent inspection and its driver did not have the proper license to operate the vehicle.
New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said Wednesday the report “reaffirmed the need for all occupants in any vehicle to wear seatbelts.”
Cuomo has proposed for the last three years a new law to require all vehicle occupants to wear seatbelts, but the state legislature has not approved it.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Cynthia Osterman
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