With the recent tragedy in upstate New York, where 20 people lost their lives, it’s important to know what to look for when using for-hire transportation. There are federal and state requirements that companies and drivers must follow and adhere to in order to be considered legal and road worthy. In many cases passengers simply aren’t aware or are hesitant to ask a company or driver to show them required certifications, licenses or inspection documents before booking that trip.
Safety issues on vehicles like limousines and party buses have happened before, most notably a wreck on Long Island in July 2015, where four women were killed while on a winery tour. In this tragic case it was discovered that the vehicle was a Lincoln Town Car that was converted into a stretch limousine and didn’t have important safety features including side-impact air bags, reinforced rollover protection bars and accessible emergency exits. The limousine was trying to make a U-turn and was struck by a pickup.
While the majority of for-hire operators are responsible and operate safely, there are those that don’t follow safety requirements therefore put passengers at risk.
What Puts Passengers at Risk:
- A vehicle that is poorly maintained or lacks required safety equipment, increasing the likelihood of breakdowns and crashes.
- An operator that fails to comply with federal safety regulations; such as not using licensed and qualified commercial drivers, or not following Hours of Service rules that keep fatigued drivers off the road.
- Failure to hold proper registration, authorizing interstate commercial operations.
- Vehicles that have after-market modifications that don’t allow to test for crash worthiness.
- Vehicles that lack seat belts or other safety features to protect passengers during a crash.
Below are a few tips to ensure that you and your loved ones hire a safe company and driver:
How to Protect Yourself:
- Shop around and check online review sites and the Better Business Bureau.
- Ask the company how it screens drivers and the length of time their drivers have been operating these types of vehicles.
- Check to be certain the limousine/party bus operator is licensed by the USDOT and has liability insurance by calling visiting http://safer.fmcsa.dot.gov and searching for the transportation provider’s name or USDOT number.
- Ask the limousine/party bus company to show you the specific vehicle you will be renting, then write down the VIN number so you ride in and pay for that specific vehicle.
- To ensure that you receive the services you requested at the price the company quotes, get a written agreement with the terms of hiring the limousine including the cost, deposit, refund, tip policies, pick-up/drop-off times, arrival and departure locations, specific type of limo requested, and services expected.
- Alcohol is not allowed in limousines/party buses carrying passengers under 21 years of age. If the driver is transporting only minors and discovers alcohol in the car, the driver is required to return the passengers to their original pick-up location. Confirm with them that they will adhere to that policy.
- Keep all receipts.
Insurance Coverage and License Requirements
It’s also important to understand that the minimum insurance requirements set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) differ significantly from state requirements. The level of financial responsibility required by FMCSA is based on the manufacturer’s designed seating capacity, not on the number of passengers riding in the vehicle at a particular time.
Companies transporting passengers for hire in vehicles with capacity for 7 to 15 passengers in interstate commerce (meaning across state lines or to/from the airport with prearranged travel to/from another state or country), must have at least $1,500,000 of liability insurance. If their vehicles carry more than 15, they must have at least $5,000,000 of liability insurance.
The City of Jacksonville also keeps a list of for you to check and make sure the company you’re dealing with is registered. You can click here to check the registration and other safety information: www.coj.net/departments/finance/fleet-management/motor-vehicle-inspections
Any vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers requires a CDL. This also includes several other federally mandated requirements like drug testing, skill, knowledge and fitness compliance, and much more.
Drivers must complete a chauffeur application, which allows the county to run a criminal-background check. Each driver must have a valid Florida commercial driver’s license with passenger endorsement. Since chauffeur licenses no longer are issued, a Class B commercial license to drive more than 10 people at a time is required.
Finally, in spite of your best efforts, if a vehicle or driver shows up without the above listed requirements or you just don’t feel safe riding in the vehicle, cancel and dispute the fees later. Your safety is more important than the cost of a deposit. And always remember to wear your safety belt, don’t distract the driver and don’t stick any part of your body out of the window or sunroof. You want this special reason for renting a limousine or party bus to be memorable for all the right reasons.
IF YOU’RE INVOLVED IN A CRASH, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
Coker Law cautions drivers to be careful and if you are injured by a negligent driver, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. You may qualify to receive compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses related to your injuries. To speak with a Coker Law personal injury attorney or for more information call (904) 356-6071 or click here to schedule a free consultation.