The fate of a new state bill on limousine inspections after the tragic fire on San Mateo-Hayward Bridge will be decided on Friday, Aug. 30 in Sacramento.
The state Assembly Appropriations Committee will consider SB 338, which has been introduced by Sen. Jerry Hill. The bill would close loopholes that currently allow limos with a seating capacity of more than 10 to forgo annual safety inspections and having fire extinguishers.
An estimated 4,200 converted stretch limousines in California are similar to the one that caught fire May 5 on the bridge, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. The fire killed a bride and four of her friends en route to a bridal party in San Carlos.
Similar to most stretch limos, the 1999 Lincoln Town Car involved in the San Mateo Bridge tragedy had been modified. It was cut in half, and its fuel and electrical lines were severed and rebuilt with a larger passenger compartment in the middle. When an air-suspension system in the rear of the vehicle failed, the metal pan beneath the limo's floorboard scraped against the drive shaft, creating friction and heat that ignited the blaze, an investigation by the CHP concluded. The vehicle was carrying nine passengers -- one more than was allowed. The driver and only four passengers were able to escape the burning limousine.
SB 338 would improve limousine-safety standards by bringing the smaller vehicle up to the same standards as those with more than 10 passengers. The bill requires two fire extinguishers in each vehicle, and the vehicle must have an annual inspection by the California Highway Patrol. Owners must certify to the Public Utilities Commission and CHP that the vehicle meets federal and state motor-vehicle-safety standards.
"This legislation simply affords smaller limousines the same safety protections that are provided to larger vehicles because a life in a nine-passenger vehicle is just as valuable as a life in a 10-passenger vehicle," Hill said.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee estimates an annual $900,000 cost to enforce the legislation. The bill allows the CHP to collect a $25 per-vehicle fee from limo operators to help cover the cost. The bill is supported by the California State Sheriffs' Association, California Professional Firefighters, California Fire Chiefs Association and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.