Legislature should pass limousine safety measure 

Twice in about a month's time, limousines carrying passengers in the Bay Area have suddenly burst into flames — once with deadly consequences. The state should pass legislation to add emergency escape exits to help prevent such tragedies in the future.

The first incident was in early May, when a limousine carrying a group of nurses on their way to a bridal celebration in Foster City caught fire on the San Mateo Bridge. Four women survived by crawling through the window that divides the passenger compartment from the driver's area. Five other women, including the bride, died in the inferno.

In a second incident in Walnut Creek this past weekend, 10 elderly women — some in their 90s — were able to escape from a limo that burst into flames.

On Monday, state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-Hayward, introduced legislation that would require limousines to have two rear exit doors in the passenger compartment. Her legislation also calls on limos to have windows that could be pushed out from the inside — much like the type that are found on buses.

"This legislation simply strengthens limo safety requirements in California by making sure that passengers can evacuate quickly in the event of an emergency," Corbett said in a statement of the legislation.

It would be second-guessing to state that such exits could have prevented the deadly fire on the San Mateo Bridge, since witnesses to the crash stated that the limo was rapidly engulfed in flames.

But having more escape routes that easily open from the inside certainly could not hurt in future fires. Limousines that carry many people should, just like buses and other forms of public transportation, have numerous escape routes to prevent the delays that exiting single-file through one opening would cause.

The upgrades to limousines across the state will surely cost companies and independent owners upfront. But the safety enhancements will be worth the price when they are needed by riders in any future incidents.

As the legislation wends its way through the state Legislature, arguments will undoubtedly arise about the vast number of limousines in operation and the small number of fires that occur in them. A counter to that issue is that the fire dangers in limousines are clear, as are the issues of passengers being able to quickly escape such conflagrations.

The California Highway Patrol is still investigating the fatal limo fire, and the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates limousines in the state, is probing both incidents. Once the causes of the fires are determined, there may also be additional safety measures that need to be put into place to prevent blazes from igniting in the first place.

In the meantime, the Legislature can show that the lives of people trump that of any minuscule costs to limousine companies by passing Corbett's legislation before there is another tragic example of why the emergency escape routes are needed.

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