Limo own­ers, state take pre­cau­tions

The Norwalk Hour - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Mayko

“They have to pass (in­spec­tion) be­fore they can do busi­ness.” Kevin Nur­sick, De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion spokesman

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 it’s a tail light out, that car does not go out un­til it’s 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 re­man­u­fac­tured Ford Ex­cur­sion

— a so-called “su­per stretch” limo — in up­state New York that killed 20 on Oct. 6 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 there 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.”

“Any time you take a car, chop it in half and add a piece — how safe can it be?” Santo Sil­ve­stro, owner, Hoyt Liv­ery, New Canaan

Erik Traut­mann / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Santo Sil­ve­stro, owner of Hoyt Liv­ery in New Canaan, in­side one of the lim­ou­sines in his fleet. He said his in­sur­ance com­pany re­quires pe­ri­odic safety in­spec­tions of his ve­hi­cles, more than the state re­quires. He per­son­ally in­spects his fleet every day.

Glenn L. Camp­bell, a driver at Hoyt Liv­ery. The com­pany has never used su­per stretch lim­ou­sines, and sold its two con­ven­tional stretch limos two years ago be­cause there wasn’t much call for them.

Sil­ve­stro, owner of Hoyt Liv­ery, in­spects one of his limos Thurs­day.

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