Wake County News

Wake County limo operator says NY tragedy is sign NC needs stricter regulations

CARY, N.C. (WNCN) - A deadly limousine crash that killed 20 people in New York has some North Carolina limousine companies calling for increased regulations.

Seventeen passengers and the driver of an extended 2001 Ford Expedition died Saturday when the vehicle ran a stop sign and slam into a parked SUV near the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe in Schoharie, New York. The limo struck and killed two pedestrians.

Investigators said Monday that the limousine driver did not have the necessary Commercial Driver's License to transport that many passengers. The vehicle itself failed a September inspection by the New York Department of Motor Vehicles and was not supposed to be on the road.

"I'm just glad I'm not in New York because I'd want to choke (the owner) to death," New York native and Wake County based limo operator Heidi Beaudoin said. "I mean, it's just crazy. What was he thinking and how can he live with himself now? It should never have happened. It's ridiculous."

Beaudoin and her husband Paul own Lifestyle Limousine Company in Raleigh. She said North Carolina needs to do more to regulate the limousine and contract transport service industry.

Sergeant Michael Baker with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol said companies must obtain permit from the Division of Motor Vehicles and comply with all requirements as set out in Article 10A of Chapter 20 of the General Statutes (NCGS 20-280.1 et seq)It calls for background checks for drivers employed by Transportation Network Companies.

Baker said limousines are supposed to have "For Hire" registration plates that distinguish them from taxis (NCGS 20-87).

"There is a lot of grey area. We have some police and law enforcement that drive part time for us. They even tell me they let things slide because we're limousines. They're curious to us," Beaudoin said.

"They don't even know what to look for. The whole thing with (For Hire) license plates. They don't know what's legal and not legal. They don't know the laws with alcohol and not, how many passengers should be in the vehicle. There's so much that they're not trained on, they just don't know and so things slide by."

Her company policy is that there should not be any more passengers on board than there are seat belts.

State law says that passengers are required to wear seat belt if the vehicle has them (NCGS 20-135.2a)  but passenger vehicles which have capacity for ten passengers capacity or more are only required to have seat belts for the front seats (NCGS 20-135.3).

Drivers in the state do not need any sort of certification to drive stretch limousines, which seat 15 people or fewer, including the driver. Operators must have a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) to drive the larger party bus limos, which can seat two or three dozen people.

"They're not Uber drivers. They're in a big car. They're responsible for a lot of lives," Beaudoin said.

"(My drivers) get medical exams every year to make sure that they're certified (for the CDL). They're drug tested. The whole thing that if they were to drive a tractor trailer is the same thing they need to do for the limousine."

She said there are several limousine operators in the Triangle who do not have the necessary license plates, exceed capacity, and fail to follow other standards. She fears the reckless, and rule-less, nature of some drivers will lead to similar safety situations as Saturday's incident New York.

"It's happening here in Raleigh. It drives me crazy that it keeps happening and nothing is being done about it, so I hope this now changes the laws that are in place," Beaudoin said.

Greenville, North Carolina requires limousine drivers and other for hire operators to have a taxi driver's permit.

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