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Transportation Limo owners, state take precautions

October 13, 2018

Santo Silvestro says he doesn’t believe in leaving anything to chance.

Every day, Silvestro said, he or his fleet manager inspect the vehicles that have gone out from his Hoyt Livery or Crosstown Limousine, both in New Canaan.

“I’m here seven days a week,” Silvestro said last week. “I’m out looking for dents, checking the tire pressure ... if I see a something wrong even it its a tail light out, that car does not go out until its repaired.”

The Silvestro family, which has owned Hoyt Livery, also known as Hoyt Limousine, since 1987, maintain their own body and repair shops — New Canaan Auto Body and New Canaan Auto Repair, on the same Cross Street site.

The deadly crash of a re-manufactured Ford Excursion — a so-called “super stretch” limo — in upstate New York that killed 20 on Oct. 7 has sounded warning bells in the heads of brides and grooms scheduling parties and receptions, parents preparing for proms and others, including state. Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who sits on the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee.

“That crash has left questions about the vehicle and the driver,” Boucher said. “We need to determine if our laws are well-written as to the qualifications of drivers and the inspection of these vehicles.”

In Connecticut, limousine services using vehicles carrying fewer than eight passengers are only required to be inspected once by the Department of Transportation, and that’s when the company is applying for a license.

“If they don’t pass inspection, they are not licensed,” said Kevin Nursick, a DOT spokesman. “They have to pass before they can do business.”

He said the majority of vehicles inspected are “sedans and SUVs, not stretch limousines.” And he added vehicles operating under services like Uber and Lyft are not inspected at all.

That’s another problem Boucher said the Transportation Committee needs to look at.

Stretched out

Vehicles carrying eight or more passengers in the state must be inspected every six months by Connecticut’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Stretch Limousines operating in Connecticut can only do so if they are specifically certified by the factory manufacturer to be altered in such a way, and only if the modifications are or were performed by a factory-approved establishment,” Nursick explained. “These vehicles would also be inspected by CTDOT prior to service. Vehicles not meeting this criteria are immediately rejected, and cannot be registered for livery use in Connecticut.”

But DOT’s requirements only extend to vehicles garaged in Connecticut and transporting passengers within the state. Additional requirements for commercial motor vehicles traveling into and out of Connecticut fall under the regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The Silvestros said they never operated with any super stretch limos. They sold their two conventional stretch limousines two years ago because their wasn’t much call for them.

“A reputable company really needs to be careful,” Silvestro said. “Any time you take a car, chop it in half and add a piece — how safe can it be?

Federal and state investigators in New York are attempting to determine the cause of the catastrophic upstate crash. Published reports claim the 2001 Ford Excursion, modified into a stretch limousine, ran a stop sign, struck a parked sport utility vehicle and rolled down an embankment. The 17 passengers and driver were killed, along with two pedestrians.

Safety measures

Nationally, there were 28 fatal crashes — and 39 total deaths — involving large limousines from 2008 through 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That compares with nearly 318,000 fatal crashes and nearly 347,000 total fatalities in crashes involving all types of vehicles during that period.

Of the 39 fatalities, 24 were occupants of large limousines, while 15 of those killed were pedestrians or in other involved vehicles.

The administration, through its Fatality Analysis Reporting System, defines large limousines as as automobiles with more than four side doors or a stretched chassis with sections added within its wheelbase to increase length and passenger/cargo carrying capacity.

The term does not refer to regular-sized automobiles that might be chauffeuring passengers like a town car. It also does not refer to utility-truck-based limousines, such as the Cadillac Escalade, Hummer, or Suburban limousines.

Silvestro said each of his cars is equipped with a hammer to break glass and seat belt cutters. His vehicles also have fire extinguishers and flares. Newer vans have push-out glass on the sides and the roof, Silvestro said.

“Our drivers have been trained in safety procedures,” he said. “I personally hire them. They have been with us anywhere from five to 23 years.

He said his insurance company requires periodic safety inspections of his vehicles, more than the state requires.

“If I’m told by a driver that something doesn’t sound right in a vehicle, its coming off the road,” said Linda Silvestro, of their family owned businesses. “We’re in the business of transporting people — that’s precious cargo; I want to be able to put my head on the pillow every night and go to sleep knowing we did the right thing.”

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