Chief: State law regarding pickup truck passengers needs evaluating

Published 9:22pm Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In the aftermath of a fatal wreck on a highway near Guntersville Sunday afternoon in which a pickup truck carrying a group of children overturned and burst into flames, ejecting everyone riding in the cab and bed of the truck, Alabama politicians are considering drafting legislation to prevent people from riding in the backs of pickup trucks.

Four of the children in Sunday’s accident have been confirmed dead.

Current Alabama law has no specific mention or address prohibiting passengers from riding in the cargo bed of a pickup truck. However, Alabama’s child restraint law requires passengers under the age of 15 to be properly restrained by the appropriate devices. This law has caused some legal confusion with the terminology and whether it includes the bed of a pickup truck.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Anniston, is just one of the politicians speaking out on the issue, and said it’s foolish for Alabama to be one of a few states in the country allowing people to ride in the cargo bed of pickup trucks.

While Sgt. Steve Jarrett with the Alabama Department of Public Safety said he believed it would be a violation of this law to allow passengers under the age of 15 to ride in the cargo bed of a pickup truck while unrestrained.

“There’s some legal terminology issues. Right now there’s nothing specific that prohibits one from riding in the bed of a pickup truck in Alabama,” Jarrett said. “There is a child restraint law in the books that says anybody in a vehicle that is under the age of 15 must be properly restrained, so if we see a person who appears to be under the age of 15 in a pickup truck that’s probable cause to stop that vehicle. And if there’s a person under the age of 15 and they’re not properly restrained they would be in violation of Alabama’s child restraint law.”

Jarrett said a person in violation of the child restraint law could be issued a traffic citation — $25 for each offense, but noted while the fee may seem insignificant, the offense could add up to more than $200 with court costs, depending on the county and what the judge decides.

Jarrett said seeing passengers riding in the bed of a pickup truck is typically more commonplace in rural areas of the state.

“It’s just become a way of life in rural parts of the state,” he said. “And as a trooper that’s seen the worst of the worst crashes, it makes me cringe when I see someone riding in the bed of a pickup truck, because they have no protection — they’re going to become flying projectiles if they’re involved in a crash.”

Jarrett said it’s hard to say if Sunday’s accident will prompt any actual change, but said it’s definitely generated a lot of attention for the subject.

Selma Chief of Police William T. Riley said accidents involving passengers in the bed of pickup trucks is not something Dallas County or his department typically sees.

“I don’t see that many in town per say,” he said. “The last few accidents that we’ve had, even the ones with fatalities — there wasn’t any accidents involving a pickup truck with passengers on the back.”

Riley said with all of the attention being put on this incident, he hopes the Legislature forms a committee to discuss all sides of the issue and doesn’t act too hastily out of emotion.

“I think before they make any law they need to sit down and put it in committee and discuss it thoroughly and not let emotions get in the way and see what is best for the people,” Riley said, noting the law should be sufficient to keep people safe without being obtrusive. “Believe me, it is a terrible thing to have people, especially kids, thrown from a pickup truck and get killed. It’s not a safe situation to have them in the back of a truck anyhow. But I would hope the Legislature would sit down, get it in committee and discuss it whole-heartedly and if they are going to do a bill.”

Riley said safety-wise it’s never a good idea to have passengers, especially children, in the back of a cab.

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