Crash spurs debate to ban people from riding in back of pickup truck

KHON - June 16, 2013
Tami Mori

The question of whether there should be any restrictions on people riding in the back of a pickup truck is on the minds of many people including lawmakers.

The fiery crash near Makua cave that involved 16 people piled in a pickup truck continues to raise more questions.

Some lawmakers say it is time to ban people from riding in the back of pickup trucks all together.

Lawmakers met last month following concerns that the new seat belt law that requires people in the back seat to buckle up. The concern is that this law misses a whole group of people such as those who ride in the back of pickup trucks.

Now, that debate is back in the forefront following this weekend’s tragic accident.

Sixteen people, mostly teens, were piled into the pickup truck that crashed and caught on fire Friday night. The crash killed one person and sent four others to the hospital.

Witnesses say five people were riding in the bed of the truck, some of them were ejected after the crash.

“We’ve got to do something about this,” said Sen. Mike Gabbard, (D) West Oahu.

Sen. Gabbard proposed a bill this past session that would ban people from riding in the bed of pickup trucks, but it was ignored after the first reading.

“I’m hoping this accident will be the tipping point that actually gets a law passed,” Sen. Gabbard said.

Currently children 12 and under cannot ride in the back of pickup trucks. The cab has to be full before passengers can even sit in the back.

There are 30 other states in the country that share similar laws.

Many lawmakers recognize it’s a way of life here in Hawaii especially for those living in more rural areas.

“They need a truck bed to take out trash, to do grocery shopping, for them limiting or requiring no passengers in the back would be a hardship for them,” Representative Ryan Yamane, (D) House Transportation Chair said.

Something lawmakers say that should be taken into account when considering legislation.

“I guess the details would have to be worked out but that could be allowed, on private property, ranch lands and so forth,” Sen. Gilbert Kahele, (D) Hilo said.

The Hilo senator says he too used to traveling with his family in the back of the truck until one of his own family members got injured.

“Ever since then I’ve been someone who has been very aware of it and when I see young people, especially, high school kids riding in the back of a truck,” Kahele said.

In the case of this weekend’s group of high schoolers, many say it’s unlikely legislation would have changed the outcome.

“Especially with alcohol being involved, I’m not sure if a law about people riding in the back of the bed would have been a deciding factor or not,” Yamane said.

Sen. Gabbard’s bill banning people from riding in the back of the truck is still alive and could be revisited next session.

His bill only applies to Oahu and not the neighbor islands.