The loss of life, especially during what is supposed to be a joyous occasion, is unfathomable. The fact that this horrific crash could have and should have been avoided, makes it just that much more devastating. Where can the blame be placed for this accident? As human nature takes over, we always want detailed answers to ease our pain. The initial easiest answers are simple, a sub-standard, unsafe vehicle that shouldn’t have been on the road, an unqualified driver who should not have been behind the wheel of this vehicle, an owner who cared much more about their bottom line than those who they served. While these characteristics are not the norm in the professional chauffeured service industry, I would be untruthful if I don’t acknowledge irresponsible operators exist in every city across the country.
I’m not trying to weight the percentage of blame for this accident, but instead educate on the failures that led to this catastrophe. There’s plenty of blame to go around that has created the environment that would eventually lead to a horrific accident like this: the role of Government, the company owners, the drivers, other motorists and uninformed clients (please don’t overreact, I’m not placing blame on those that perished, but rather investigating the role that is played):
- What is the role of the Government? If you ask me, it is for them to enforce the standards and laws set forth with regard to commercial motor vehicles. The question might be asked, did they do enough to stop this accident? From all accounts, it sounded like they acted in good faith to fail a vehicle that had what they felt were “Major Defects” that would affect the safe operation. In good faith, they allowed the owner of the vehicle to take it for repairs. Could they have done more? Sure, but to most reasonable, law abiding, concerned operators it would be viewed as “Police State” tactics. Government has designed the laws to help those interested in playing by the rules maintain safety standards, but I’m sure the role of law enforcement is not going far enough to keep bad actors (operators/owners) off the roadways and from doing business.
- The company owner’s role is to abide by the law, ensure that the vehicles being operated are well maintained and the drivers operating their equipment are properly trained, certified, and empowered to refuse driving a vehicle they deem unsafe. Obviously, in the Schoharie, NY accident, none of these principles were abided by. Companies need to accept their commitment to the public they serve to act ethically, safely and caringly. The entire chauffeured transportation industry needs to weed out the companies we observe operating in a manner that puts clients at risk and tarnishes the reputations of those who are genuinely committed to providing high quality transportation options. We need to decide to act in a manner that upholds the standards demanded of our vocation, as well as, police ourselves to deter those who are unwilling to take safety as the primary reason for our existence.
- Drivers are key to ensuring a safe experience for the client. It is their responsibility to inspect a vehicle before leaving their parking area to ensure that the vehicle meets their expectations of safety. Being a chauffeur is a great job, you are exposed to a wide cross section of people, have the ability to see the world through a different perspective and have the unique opportunity of providing individuals with “Amazing Experiences”, while making great money. Your reputation and longevity in the chauffeured transportation industry will depend upon your unwavering commitment to those you serve, the client. Unfortunately, your poor decisions and unwillingness to hold your employers to safety standards could risk not only your safety, but as well, expose you to legal issues.
- Other Motorists?– You might ask yourself, how would I factor into the equation? Other motorists sharing the roadways with commercial passenger vehicles have the ability to observe unsafe operation, speed, weaving, hard stops, hard stops, malfunctioning safety equipment- lights, hanging equipment (mufflers, bumpers, etc.), and other factors that could contribute to unsafe conditions for others on the road. Motorist can report license plate numbers to authorities and detail their concerns. This gives the power back to law enforcement to confront unsafe operation on the public roadway when the full force of the commercial laws can be enforced.
- Uninformed Customers are helping many of the irresponsible operators stay on the road. I know that sounds harsh, but it is absolutely true. Many clients have poor experiences with irresponsible companies and rather than taking the extra steps of contacting the company for resolution, then commenting on social media, BBB reviews, reports to local news, or following up with State Governing entities to report improprieties, they do nothing. Secondly, with the expanded acceptance of the Transportation Network Company experience (Uber, Lyft, etc.) of jumping in and out of vehicles that you know very little about the condition of the vehicle or skillset of the operator, has instilled a false sense of security that all transportation companies are created equal, therefore, if you have a website offering transportation services the only difference is the price, right? Now, I won’t make any further comment as to the merit of Uber or Lyft, as they both have filled a major gap needed in providing transportation options for the general public and do have some internal measures for ensuring at least the most minimum requirements of safe operation are met. My biggest concern is the larger group transportation for special events. So thirdly, interview several companies, asking them relevant questions regarding insurance, vehicle age and maintenance, driver/chauffeur qualifications. Review comments and posts on the internet about their service, research their rating with the BBB, investigate their standing with the State/Government websites that oversee transportation companies in your location. Lastly, be prepared for the day of your special event to “Say NO!” If the vehicle shows up and appears to not live up to your expectations of safety or what you were sold over the phone, say “no thank you”. You are the last checkpoint for safety! Events can be rescheduled. Unfortunately, not listening to your gut reaction about the safety of the vehicle you’re getting into, could be a fatal decision.
In closing, the loss of life due to the continued illegal and negligent behavior of a company responsible for making “Epic” memories is disgusting and horrific. We all need to work together, Government, transportation companies, drivers/chauffeurs, observing motorists and the creation of informed consumers, to working together in the outing of companies that do not respect their obligation and commitment to safety. Education of the consumer as to what the real costs are of the services we provide rather than just matching prices to get business. As an operator, hold your ground, continue to do the right thing and take the time to educate the consumer about your value in the marketplace. As the consumer, trust your judgement, listen to professionals, review the information available and be willing to spend what it takes to ensure that you’ve chosen a provider committed to you and your event success. Drivers/chauffeurs, be willing to say no, your commitment to safe operation can be the last checkpoint between an epic adventure or a fatal experience.