A look at limo safety in Illinois after deadly NY crash

CHICAGO — After 20 people were killed in a New York state limousine accident, the rest of the nation was left to wonder: Could it happen again?

The limousine driver was reportedly traveling too fast on a treacherous road, but that is only half the story. He didn’t have a commercial driver’s license, either. In Illinois, that license is required for vehicles transporting 16 or more people and weighing more than 26,000 pounds.

But it may be hard to know what you’re getting if you don’t ask — just look at Craigslist. That's where you'll find dozens of limousines for sale. They come complete with mini bars, neon lights, big-screen TVs and lots of seats. The Illinois Department of Transportation said there is no real restriction when it comes to perks or capacity. So parents or limo renters need to check all of the driver's credentials and licenses, not to mention his or her insurance. A personal auto policy is not enough.

"Anyone can buy a limo and hold themselves out as a limo driver," personal injury lawyer Jeff Kroll said.

In Illinois, tricked-out limousines, altered in every way to fit more than seven passengers, are legal and subject to inspection if they meet a certain weight. IDOT said there is no maximum capacity limit.

Additionally, the state of Illinois doesn’t require seatbelts in the back of limos unless a limo was made in 2018 or after. That's a new law this year.

"Let’s face it," Kroll said, "the back of a limo with teens and young adults is a party on wheels."

In 2014, comedian Tracy Morgan wasn’t wearing a seatbelt when his limo in New Jersey was hit from behind by a Walmart truck. In 2015, four woman touring Long Island wineries died when their limo was T-boned by a pickup truck.

The key with these cars-for-hire is to always ask, because you may not know what’s safe until it’s too late.

"When they show up to your house, as a parent, ask to see their CDL — their commercial driver’s license," Kroll said. "Look for proof of insurance. Most companies will have the certification from the city of Chicago saying they are a licensed chauffeur. Ask to see that. Absent one of those three, get out.”

In Illinois, altered or customized cars like limos are supposed to be inspected every 6 months with no limit on how big they can be built. If that car crosses state lines, federal agencies can require a different annual inspection.

The Better Business Bureau suggests you check its website for accredited businesses, check reviews and read complaints.

More information:

  • Chicago's office of business affairs and consumer protection has a dedicated website with information on livery and charter-sightseeing licenses.
  • That office created a know-before-you-go guide: What should consumers be looking for when they are hiring limo drivers?