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I-Team: How Safe Are Stretch Limos?

By WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve
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WBZ-TV's Joe Shortsleeve Joe Shortsleeve
Joe Shortsleeve is chief correspondent for WBZ-TV News weekdays a...
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BOSTON (CBS) – This is the height of prom and wedding season so that means many limos are being booked for these big events.

But the tragic fire in San Francisco has many wondering if these vehicles are safe. I-Team Reporter Joe Shortsleeve found some people might have a right to be worried.

It is the biggest limo in the fleet at Princess Limo in Fall River — the Cadillac Tandem and every bride has to have it for her wedding. It seats 22!

Its spacious and luxurious interior should make any event memorable, but the process of making a vehicle this big is one of the main concerns after the California accident that killed five members of a bridal party.

Sean Kane is a nationally recognized auto safety expert.

“When you are stretching a vehicle, you are changing a lot of things,” says Kane. “You are changing the vehicle dynamics and handling capacity, you are changing the center of gravity and you’re changing the crash worthiness capability.”

Kane, who is based in Rehoboth, says only Cadillac, Mercedes, and Lincolns are authorized for stretching, and even then there is very little oversight of the practice.

“In most cases there aren’t standards or practices that insure that a vehicle is safe in all aspects,” says Kane.

Limos that carry more than eight people are inspected annually by the state of Massachusetts and Brian Thomas of Princess Limo says most companies do even more.

“We spend thousands upon thousands a week on preventative maintenance to prevent anything from happening on the road.”

But the I-Team poured through the records of dozens of Limo companies in Massachusetts and found all kinds of troubling failures like defective brakes.

And standing out in the wake of what happened in San Francisco — no fire extinguishers and insufficient warning devices.

Kane says that could be the tip of the iceberg.

“When you modify a vehicle, a lot of the things that are being done, that are being modified can’t be seen, and they are not conducive to a short visual inspection,” says Kane. “You can end up designing and putting together vehicles on the road that have hidden problems.”

“You put a sheet metal screw in a place that could puncture a fuel tank.”

Kane concluded by saying, “I am not putting my kids in a stretch limo.”

A thought probably shared by many parents. Another concern in San Francisco was the age of the limo. It had been on the road since 1999.

So far, there is no official cause of the fire.

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