LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — As the investigation continues into the limousine crash in upstate New York that killed 20 people, many questions remain:
Was the vehicle, a Ford Excursion that had been cut in half and a new section added in the middle, mechanically sound? Did the driver make a fatal mistake?
Closer to home, the question becomes how you know you’re safe when you take a limo ride.
“The one thing that sets Michigan apart is the fact that a lot of states don’t have a state program to inspect the vehicles,” said Rob Pearson of the Michigan Department of Transportation.
He’s the person in charge of safety for buses and any commercial vehicle that carries more than nine passengers, including limousines.
Michigan is one of 22 states with standards that go above and beyond the federal requirements for limousines. Federal inspection are based on original vehicle specifications, but most limousines are modified, and added weight necessitates heavier tires, brakes and other equipment.
“So if that vehicle is stretched to a 20-passenger vehicle, we inspect the vehicle to make sure it has the appropriate emergency exits for a vehicle of that size, the tires are rated for the new weight of the vehicle and then we make sure all of the other mechanical items are sound,” Pearson said.
“A lot of these stretch limousines become a tube, a metal tube,” he continued. “There’s only one way in and out of the vehicle. Michigan law now requires that an exit is on the front and the back half of a passenger compartment.”
Many of the rules came as a result of a tragedy in Michigan 21 years ago. Days after the Detroit Red Wings’ 1997 Stanley Cup victory, players Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Fetisov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov were seriously injured when their limousine crashed in suburban Detroit.
It prompted state officials to add their own inspection program and more education for limo services.
“We’ve helped raise the first-pass inspection rate to over 90 percent. That means every nine out of 10 vehicles is safe on the road when we show up to inspect it,” Pearson said.
While he’s confident in Michigan’s efforts to keep limo rides safe, he said the state will look at the lessons learned from the New York crash.
“We’ll always be looking at our regulations to see if we can do anything to make the state safer for people to travel,” Pearson said.