Legally, kids can’t ride in bed of pick-up

Published 12:23 am Saturday, July 27, 2013

Most think nothing of letting the kids hop in the back of the truck for a quick ride down the road.

But, the death of a Brewton boy Monday and the deaths of four others in north Alabama earlier this month has put the spotlight on the dangers of the long-standing practice.

Alabama is one of 19 states where riding in the back of a pick up truck isn’t against the law. Instead, the Alabama Department of Public Safety recommends that all passengers of motor vehicles be restrained in federally approved safety restraints. The child-restraint law requires all passengers of motor vehicles under the age of 15 to be restrained. If a person 15 years of age or older is riding in the cargo bed of a pickup, there is no specific violation of Alabama law.

Sgt. Steve Jarrett, DPS spokesman, said using restraints in a vehicle is more than just a good idea.

“In Alabama, buckling up is not only a suggestion — it is the law,” Jarrett said. “Drivers must ensure all occupants of motor vehicles who are younger than 15 use seat belts and child restraint systems that meet applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards.”

So how does one ensure that a child is “properly restrained” in the back of a truck?

“They can’t,” he said. “The cargo bed of a pickup truck is designed to haul cargo, not passengers. Therefore, vehicle manufacturers do not install safety restraints.”

Lawmakers saw a need as early as 1975 to institute specific guidelines for restraining children in motor vehicles. Section 32-5-222 of the Code of Alabama laws has been revised to reflect the changes in traffic patterns and technology available for the safety of children.

That law, officials say, is in place to prevent serious injury and death to young passengers.

Covington County Chief Deputy David Anderson said state law may not specifically prohibit anyone from riding in the open bed of a pickup truck, but it does require restraints — something not typically found in a truck bed.

The practice is also one he knows will continue, and motor vehicle operators should “exercise the utmost caution” when doing so.

“And use common sense,” Anderson said. “If you have children in the back of a truck, don’t speed, and never, ever operate a vehicle if you’ve been drinking.

“And if you do have children in the truck bed, make sure that they sit below the fender wells, not on the side of the truck, and make sure they aren’t wearing loose clothing that will drag or get caught.

“And again, use extreme caution, especially when you’re dealing with younger children,” he said. “They aren’t prone to sit still, you know.”