HOUSTON – After that horrific, deadly limousine accident in New York in early October, Channel 2 Investigates started digging into inspection records for the limos cruising our roads. The Associated Press reported that the limo that crashed in New York, killing 20 people, failed recent inspections.
There are key questions to ask before renting a limousine in Houston.
- Does the limousine have a current City of Houston limo license?
- Has it passed a City of Houston inspection?
- Is it operated by a limousine company licensed to operate in the City of Houston?
- How old is the limousine?
Houston has more than 2,000 licensed, inspected and permitted limousines for hire.
State law allows Houston to require limousines carrying up to 15 passengers to be licensed and permitted by the city.
The permits and inspection requirements are to protect your safety when you get into a car for hire.
However, you won't find that every limo company offering luxury rides on web or social media sites has licensed and permitted vehicles.
Limousines operating in Houston without proper inspections and permits are breaking the law and subject to fines of up to $500 per incident, per day.
Close to 50 limos failed at least one inspection component in Houston since late 2016. Some of the reasons for those failed inspections included brake issues, tires that needed replacement, cracked windshields and check engine lights on in the vehicle.
The city of Houston requires every limo for hire within its city limits to pass an inspection before going into service, and again every year it operates as a vehicle for hire.
It also limits a limo's operating life span to 10 years from its make and model date.
City of Houston inspectors use a 20-point annual inspection checklist to ensure passenger safety and road worthiness of limousines for hire.
If an inspector finds a problem with even one item on the list, the vehicle will fail its inspection. It cannot legally operate again until whatever was wrong is fixed and the vehicle passes a reinspection.
So, how do you know that the limo you are about to rent has been inspected, licensed and permitted?
Finding that information is not as easy as you might think. It is not posted on the City of Houston's website, so Channel 2 Investigates is putting the inspection and permitting records we got from the city online right now.
The city plans to put some records on its website sometime in 2019, according to Lara Cottingham at Houston's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department.
"What we're looking at right now is the company name, company contact information, and potentially list of vehicles," she said. "That hasn't all been finalized yet."
When you call to rent a limo ask if the company, and the limo it plans to send, have current city of Houston permits.
When the limousine arrives, Cottingham said don't get in until you check to see if there is a current limousine permit and inspection sticker on the vehicle.
"The limo permit says 'Houston Limo License.' It'll be a big red sticker," Cottingham said. "And underneath that, you'll see an inspection sticker. That inspection sticker will tell you the date someone from the city of Houston actually inspected and looked at the vehicle and checked it for safety. It changes color every year so that we know if it's current or not."
The 2018 inspection stickers are blue. Inspection stickers for 2019 will be yellow.