By Bay City News Service
A bill that aims to improve safety for limousine passengers in the wake of a fatal limousine tragedy that killed five women on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge earlier this year was signed into law Friday.
The limo safety bill authored by state Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, was introduced at the start of the year but was ushered through the Legislature after five women were killed when limo they were riding in caught fire on the bridge on May 4.
The law will increase the number of required exits in the passenger compartment of limousines, with an extra door and a push-out window. It also requires limo operators to brief passengers on safety features at the start of a trip.
The law will apply to all new limousines starting July 1, 2015.
All existing limos have until Jan. 1, 2016, to conform the vehicles to the requirements of the law.
In a statement released today after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill, Corbett said, "It is vital that limo passengers remain safe so that these celebrations do not turn into tragedies."
The five women killed were part of a group of nine women celebrating the wedding of Neriza Fojas, 31, of Monterey.
Fojas perished in the limo fire, along with Jennifer Balon, 39, of Dublin, Anna Alcantara, 46, of San Lorenzo, Michelle Estrera, 35, of Fresno, and Felomina Geronga, 43, of Alameda.
The five who died were unable to escape the vehicle that became engulfed in flames.
The group was heading to a hotel in Foster City.
Four women - Jasmin Jasmin Deguia, 34, of San Jose, Mary Guardiano, 42, of Alameda, Nelia Arellano, 36, of Oakland, and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro - and the driver, Orville Brown, 46, survived the fire.
TownCar SF is the company that owned and operated the limo.
In a letter to Gov. Brown in September, the Greater California Livery Association wrote "on behalf of over 5,000 California limousine operators" for the governor to veto the bill.
The association, which represents limo and bus companies and operators, claimed that the new safety measures "may actually present the opportunity for reduced passenger safety."
The group charged that extra openings "would introduce additional oxygen into the vehicle" and in the San Mateo bridge incident, could have caused a massive explosion.
They urged the governor to consider more studies about engineering the modified limos and the costs associated with the new safety requirements for cars.
Another limo safety bill authored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, was vetoed Friday.
That bill, SB 338, sought to require the California Highway Patrol to conduct annual safety inspections for stretch limousines. It also would have required that the vehicles be equipped with two "readily accessible" fire extinguishers onboard.
Brown rejected the bill and in his veto letter cited his passage of Corbett's bill that would establish safety requirements to protect limo passengers.
"Riding in a limousine should be free from dangers that can be avoided with an annual safety inspection," he said in the letter.
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