TORONTO – A deadly crash involving a stretched limousine-style SUV in New York state over the weekend has put a spotlight on safety concerns around the modified vehicles, but companies in the industry maintain that they’re safe.
On Saturday the limousine, built from a 2001 Ford Excursion, ran a stop sign, crossed three lanes of traffic and hit a parked SUV before stopping in a wooded ditch. Two pedestrians and all 18 people in the limo celebrating a woman’s birthday died.
The cause of the crash is being investigated but New York officials have raised concerns about a failed inspection for the vehicle last month.
While details of the vehicle involved are limited, automotive companies do have strict specifications in place to help ensure the general safety of modified vehicles, said Leo Bodenstein, vice-president of the professional vehicles division at Inkas Armored & Professional Vehicle Manufacturing.
“When you convert a vehicle, you’re converting it to the equivalent of those specs. You can’t exceed them, you can’t go over those specs, you can’t go under those specs. You have to build it as set by the manufacturer.”
After-market auto shops that adhere to the standards can apply for certification in programs such as Ford Motor Co.’s Qualified Vehicle Modifier program or Cadillac’s Certified Master Coachbuilder.
The programs outline requirements such as brake strength, wheelbase length limits, use of fireproof materials, and emergency exits including pop-out windows and an escape hatch in the ceiling.
Bodenstein said there are still some auto shops that might do modifications outside of what’s recommended by manufacturers, but North York-based Inkas sees significant value in being recognized as a member of Ford’s program.
He said it looked like the Ford Excursion involved in the deadly crash in New York could be longer than 356 centimetres (140 inches), which exceeds the manufacturer’s specifications.
Ford said in a statement that it does not have any information about the vehicle involved in this accident, but is ready to co-operate with agencies that are investigating.
Hameed Khan at Rolling Luxury in Ottawa, which rents stretched SUVs, said he’s never had a customer ask about safety issues but they can see that the vehicle has been given an inspection on behalf of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
“When they see the vehicle they would also see the annual sticker, so if the vehicle has that, it means that it’s gone through a thorough inspection by the ministry, by someone licensed by the ministry.”
He said the company imports vehicles from the U.S., and that all imported vehicles have to be in auto manufacturer programs like Ford’s Qualified Vehicle Modifier program.
Toronto also requires that all modified Cadillac and Ford products must be converted in accordance with the manufacturers’ certification programs, while all other conversions need to be certified by the National Safety Mark issued by Transport Canada.
British Columbia introduced more stringent regulations for the industry in the province in 2015 and now requires each vehicle to be approved by the Passenger Transportation Board for a special licence and has imposed a more extensive application process and operator review.