End of the road for Limos in Britain?

June 17th, 2008 - 7:22 am ICT by IANS  

London, June 16 (IANS) For stretch limousines in Britain it may be the end of the road. Authorities will crack down on the large-sized vehicles amid fears that many do not comply with road safety legislation. The Local Government Association (LGA) estimates that 40 percent of the 11,000 limousines on Britain’s roads, particularly those built to hold more than eight people, are unlicensed and operating illegally.

The LGA announced Sunday that local councils will link up with the police to increase roadside spot checks and haul the illegal limousines off the road, reports The Independent.

The lumbering status symbols are owned by the richly rich, including football stars. Several car rentals list them in their portfolios to attract marrying couples, tourists or even groups of boozers.

The stretchies have become popular in Britain in the last one decade and the automobile industry expects another 5,000 of them to enter the country this year.

Chrysler and Cadillac are the well-known stretchy models, but the Hummer is the latest trend. An American Hummer H2 limo will cost between 80,000 pound and 100,000 pound to buy, 20,000 pound to import to Britain and about 6,000 pound a year to insure.

Under current British law any car which carries fewer than eight people, including a limousine, can be licensed by the local council as a taxi.

As these larger limousines have the capability to carry more than eight people - some of the largest have space for 30 revellers - the government’s Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (Vosa) treats them as passenger carrying vehicles and, like a bus, they require a special licence and a certificate that proves they are safe.

Assessment criteria include adequate turning circles and headroom, as well as access to fire escapes and fire extinguishers, which only a small number of the most recent models incorporate.

The government is of the view that many of these vehicles are being bought into the country by criminal gangs or money launderers fronting as car rental agents and making money by plying their vehicles illegally and without adhering to safety standards.

Spot checking of these vehicles is on the rise and so is the number of prosecutions. A Bradford businessman was recently fined nearly 15,000 pounds and 31 points on his licence for not meeting safety regulations.

However, the government move has angered legitimate operators.

Says a stretch limousine owner from Birmingham, preferring to remain anonymous: “None of us are going to complain if the government goes after the real crooks but don’t close down honest businesses who are just trying to make a living.”

On June 19, after ferrying thousands of racegoers to Ladies Day, more than 500 limo drivers will take a short break from chauffeuring to hold a summit outside the famous racecourse at Ascot to discuss how they can lobby the government.

There are fledgling plans to hold a “go slow” protest by driving en masse into London, similar to the demonstration by lorry drivers last month.

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