The fatal limousine fire that killed a newlywed bride and her four friends in California has many Minnesotans wondering whether those luxurious vehicles are safe.
With prom and wedding season in full swing, experts recommend doing research before renting a limousine -- and learning what to do in case of an emergency. Unfortunately, many riders don't take those steps.
Michelle Reitan and Kayla Weibe are still gabbing about their glamorous prom photos. The Burnsville High School seniors celebrated that event just last weekend, and many of their classmates arrived in fancy stretch limousines.
With such an extravagant event to look forward to, safety is often the last thing on a traveler's mind -- especially when someone else is driving.
Yet, Len Nelson, of Valley Limo, says there's a common misconception among riders and that most accidents tend to happen during the prom and wedding season.
"For years, people have tried to stick their heads out of the sun roofs -- hanging out the doors, waving at people," Nelson said.
With bad behavior and the limousine fire in mind, Nelson takes extra measures in case of an emergency by making sure his riders know all the rules before they get comfortable inside.
"You're used to your home vehicle, where you know where the door handle is," he explained. "Here, you have to scoot, you have to slide, you have to do a whole lot of things to get out of this vehicle."
The problem is, those warnings seem to be rare.
"With the legitimate operators, we don't have a lot of serious problems," said Michael McKay, with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. "It's more those who want to buy a car and try to circumvent the regulations."
McKay and his team regulate the 300 limousines in the state, but he said it's a challenge to keep up with all the new limo drivers entering the business -- some who operate illegally without a license.
"We are out there constantly," he said. "We are watching constantly. We follow up."
In the end, however, it is also the rider's responsibility to know the rules and select a safe service. Experts recommend that before you rent:
- Look online
- Ask for a tour inside the limousine before making a selection
- Check the permit number to ensure the driver is legit.
To learn more, call MnDOT's Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations at 651-215-6330.