Students turn to limos for safe, fun rides to prom

Posted Friday, May. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Tips on renting limos Book early. Limos for spring proms, graduations and weddings start getting booked in January and February. Get rate quotes and contracts in writing. Ask about extra costs, such as for vehicle clean up for spilled beverages or damage to seats. Tips are usually in cash. Check with the Better Business Bureau and National Limousine Association to help find a reputable company and compare services and prices. Check the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles’ Truck Stop database to determine whether a motor carrier company is licensed in Texas. Ask about the insurance, driver’s permit, tire condition and age of the vehicle. Make sure vehicle is the right capacity for the number of passengers and there are enough seat belts for everyone. Go over rules for the trip with the driver, including authorized stops and a curfew at the end of the evening. Give a phone number for an adult contact person. Make sure driver knows how many teens are in the group. Sources: City of Fort Worth ground transportation office and National Limousine Association and Four Seasons Limousine.

Are you sending your teen to promo in a limo?

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As soon as teens pile into his limousine on the way to high school proms, “Big Joe” Baladez lays out the rules for riding in his 22-passenger Hummer H2.

No sticking your head out the windows.

No opening the emergency latch.

And no alcohol. If he finds any, the teens will be finding another ride home.

“Ride’s over,” said Baladez, a chauffeur with Fort Worth-based Godfather Transportation and a veteran driver of 19 years. “And I call their parents.”

With proms becoming more extravagant and expensive — a recent survey by Visa showed that on average, students spend $1,139 for tickets, gowns and tuxedos, corsages and salon visits — stretch limos and party buses have replaced dad’s sedan as the preferred form of transportation to and from the milestone event.

And Baladez said the measures he and other limo drivers take to ensure that students will be safely transported to and from their high school prom are a big reason parents choose to shell out hundreds of dollars for the luxury ride.

Indeed, besides adding a glamorous touch, parents say that renting limos keeps them from worrying about their children navigating the congestion- and construction-plagued freeways of North Texas as they go to proms at such places as the Gaylord Texan hotel in Grapevine or Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

Although last week’s tragic fire in a Lincoln Town Car limousine on a San Francisco bridge killed five women, statistics show that limousines are generally safe.

From 2002 through 2011, 31 people died in in the United States in traffic crashes involving stretch limousines with more than four side doors, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In comparison, there were 392,874 fatalities involving all types of motor vehicles during that same time frame.

“On the safety standpoint of it, they’re not driving and that’s a good thing. You worry about the other people out there on the road,” said Patricia Borowy, whose step-daughter Dani, 18, split the cost of a 20- passenger Hummer limo to the Mansfield Legacy High School prom, which was held last weekend in downtown Fort Worth. “I don’t think it is necessary but I think because everyone else does it, they feel the need to do it too.”

Extensive checks in Fort Worth

Even with their impressive safety record, industry experts recommend doing a bit of homework to make sure the company is reputable and insured, and that business and its drivers hold the proper credentials.

In Fort Worth, 51 limousine companies have been authorized by the ground transportation office to transport passengers, and they are issued decals to put on the windshield, said Gerald Taylor, Fort Worth’s ground transportation office coordinator.

Under city rules, companies must hold at least $500,000 in liability insurance and their vehicles must pass an annual 20 point inspection, which includes tests of exhaust, emissions and braking systems, verification of the number of seat belts and making sure that a fire extinguisher is within the driver’s reach, Taylor said.

Drivers go through a driving history and criminal background check, drug and alcohol screening and must pass a defensive driving course before being issued a city permit.

The city hasn’t revoked a permit in three or four years, Taylor said.

“The requirements are about making sure the customer is protected. You don’t want anyone transporting your babies around with a criminal history,” he said. The North Texas municipalities are working together to make sure that the companies have high standards based on customer service and based on public safety. So if a driver doesn’t pass my standards, he can’t just go over to Dallas and get authorized.”

The motor carriers must also be registered with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, which regulates vehicles that hold 14 or more passengers.

Limousine and party bus companies must provide proof of insurance and pay a fee before the state will grant authority to operate, said Carol Fallin, chief investigator at the TDMV.

Drivers involve parents

Sharoon Shahzad, owner of the Richardson-based Four Seasons Limousine, said teens are usually excited about doing something so grown up and so many are on their best behavior.

So before the trip, Shahzad’s drivers -- just like Baladez -- set ground rules with students and parents about what’s allowed during the ride. The privacy divider between the driver and passengers must stay open. Parents must send a text message or email authorizing any extra stops. Drivers call parents if students run late, before they incur overtime charges.

“We explain everything up front. The service contract is right there on the website,” Shahzad said. “They’re 18. These kids are barely coming out of their shell. We don’t want to take any responsibility for kids on their own. We always want to have an adults in the middle.”

Four Seasons driver Sergio Ortega recalls a trip about two years ago when he was driving students to a prom in Plano. He dropped them off at a restaurant and he discovered little bottles of alcohol inside his 18-passenger Hummer. Under company policy, he had the right to terminate the trip right then.

“But I didn’t want to ruin their night,” said Ortega, who has been driving for eight years. “I called one of the parents to come and pick up the alcohol.”

‘Way more fun than driving’

Students say traveling to prom with their friends makes the special event all the more memorable. Along the way they listen to music, drink soda and just tool around town in style.

Some make arrangements to stop for dinner.

After the dance, they’ll call the driver’s cell phone to pick them up and take them home to change clothes before parent-sponsored after-prom parties.

Parents and students both say it’s worth the money: a 12-passenger limousine rents for $900 for six hours; a 28-seat party bus goes for $1,800.

Mansfield Legacy senior Gabriella Jimenez organized a group of buddies to take a white Hummer limousine to the prom last Saturday. Before heading to the Hilton Hotel in downtown Fort Worth, the group took pictures in front of the vehicle.

“A regular limousine is too cliche,” said Jimenez, 17, as her date, Brett Potter, helped her climb from the Hummer. “Everybody gets one of those.”

Other students hopped out of black party buses that look like discos on wheels, with laser lights, dance poles and booming sound systems.

“You want to go with your friends and have fun. We just chilled and lived it up,” said Patrick Neaves, 18, a Mansfield Legacy senior. “It was way more fun than driving.”

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326 Twitter: @jessamybrown

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