Mary Lou Jay
It's something you may have seen on a summer day -- a wide-open country highway and a small pickup speeding along the road with a couple of kids and a dog in the rear bed. While this may evoke a sense of nostalgia and adventure, it's important to remember that riding in the cargo area of pickup trucks puts both children and adults at risk for serious injuries or death.
According to the Children's Safety Network, about 50 people under age 21 are killed in the United States each year while riding in pickup cargo areas. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that people who ride in the cargo area of a truck are three times as likely to be killed in a crash as someone riding in the truck's cab.
Being outside the protection of the vehicle leaves passengers more vulnerable to injuries -- those who are hurt while sitting or standing in pickup truck beds are most likely to suffer head trauma, broken bones and cuts. And those injuries aren't always the result of vehicle accidents. Up to one half of pickup truck cargo area injuries occur because the truck swerves, or has to brake or stop suddenly, according to the Children's Safety Network. If a truck hits a pothole or a bump in the road, people sitting unrestrained in its bed may be ejected. Unrestrained passengers in the truck bed also are more likely to engage in horseplay or unsafe behavior, putting them at greater risk of being hurt.
Pickup truck owners may be surprised to discover that a camper shell doesn't offer much protection from ejection because the shell could break off in a crash. Moreover, a shell may actually poison truck bed riders if a leaking exhaust system causes carbon monoxide fumes to be trapped, according to the Children's Safety Network.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has been advocating a ban on passengers in pickup beds for several years. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports 30 states and the District of Columbia currently have some form of ban on truck bed travel, although most of those states also have exceptions to the rule. Many have restrictions only for those under 16 (or sometimes 18), for example. Maryland makes an exception for children under 16 if the vehicle is going under 25 mph. In New York, the truck has to be traveling for more than five miles for the ban on cargo area passengers to apply.
In its "Kids Aren't Cargo" campaign, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recommends that children ride in pickup trucks only in the cab and only in properly installed safety seats, booster seats or lap and shoulder harnesses.