Los Angeles

What Our Cameras Caught: Have Hollywood Tour Vans Cleaned Up Their Acts?

A Hollywood celebrity tour van erupted in flames in the beginning of August, igniting fears for neighbors who say some operators are flat-out ignoring new safety rules that put both residents and tourists in danger.

Our 2016 I-Team undercover investigation exposed instances of life-threatening behavior by Hollywood tour operators and led to new laws aimed at protecting riders and homeowners.

While some tours have cleaned up their act, the I-Team found others are still being reckless.

And no one seems to be stopping them.

When it’s summer on Hollywood boulevard, the celebrity tour ticket sellers are relentless, convincing tourists to shell out as much as $90 for what could be a very risky ride.

Two years after the I-Team exposed some tour operators using rickety vans and driving dangerously, our team hopped on tours with five different, and the findings were unsettling.

On our ride with Ultimate Hollywood tours, our driver took his hands off the wheel, blew through a red light and kept busy with his phone.

As our See Hollywood tour started, we could see the engine warning lights illuminated and the van was so low on fuel, the driver eventually had to stop to gas up mid-tour.

Four drivers ignored a new law that makes it mandatory to use headsets instead of loudspeakers to keep the noise down.

And all five broke another law requiring them to tell passengers that wearing seat belts is a “must” despite what the driver on One World tours said.

In an exchange, our producer asked if he needed a seat belt.

“No, you're fine in the back. It's not required by law. I'll keep you perfectly safe,” the driver said.

One passenger looked like he was holding on for dear life because the seat belts didn't work.

"Very disturbing,” said State Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian.

He co-authored the seat belt and headset laws in the wake of NBc4’s original reporting.

"It's unacceptable,” he said. “They're not attempting to change their behaviour. The culture hasn't changed and they're pretty brazen about it."

But after an Ultimate Hollywood Tours van burst into flames Aug. 2, new fears emerged.

The owner had little to say to NBC4. 

The fire scorched the trees but luckily didn't spread to the hillside.

"This is really a serious situation. If this community burns, you're talking about hundreds of thousands of homes and in minutes,” said Anastasia Mann, a Hollywood Hills resident. “It can't get more serious than that right now.

This is an emergency. We're in very dramatic situations or circumstances here, we're in a very, very serious fire zone."

Some drivers on the boulevard who asked not to be identified said they're well aware of the safety laws, but continue to break them because the police simply aren't issuing citations.

NBC4 reached out to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Tamer Riad works for Signature Hollywood Tours -- a company he says is trying to obey the new rules.

"What you allow will continue,” he said. “There are true rogue tour operators that just… they don't care!"

Signature recently spent $40,000 on a brand new transit van equipped with headphones.

"It is NHTSA compliant. Three-way safety belts on every single seat,” he said.

But with some tour operators refusing to change the way they do business, neighbors worry it'll take a tragedy before the city gets more serious about enforcement.

"This is an emergency, Mann said. “I would ask Mayor Garcetti to please pay attention and put his voice behind this situation. He's gotta care what happens to our tourists.

After NBC4’s investigation first aired, Assemblyman Nazarian wrote another law, giving local authorities the power to restrict tour routes.

Back in November, the city council gave the Los Angeles Department of Transportation 60 days to produce a list of streets where the vans and buses shouldn't go.

It's been seven months now, and the council is still waiting on that list.

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