Restrain riding in pickup beds

Honolulu Star Advertiser - March 20, 2013

Three teenagers were seriously injured late Saturday afternoon after being thrown from the bed of a pickup truck in a collision in Waialua, a reminder of the danger of riding unrestrained in the backs of trucks. Hawaii is among states that have attempted to address the hazards of riding in pickup cargo areas but those states too often include exemptions that allow little protection.

Five male teenagers, ages 17 and 18, were injured from the pickup's head-on collision with a car driven by a woman on Kaukonahua Road along pineapple fields. Three of the teens were injured by being thrown from the pickup bed.

A state law enacted in 1997 allows passengers 12 years and older to ride free of restraints in a pickup; two boys, ages 12 and 14, were injured after being ejected from a truck bed in a collision in Nanakuli last December.

Federal standards require all vehicles to be designed to protect occupants. However, as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety points out, "The beds of pickup trucks are designed to carry cargo, not people, and are not designed to provide protection in a crash."

The insurer-funded institute points out that "children and adults can be easily ejected from cargo areas at relatively low speeds as a result of a sharp turn to avoid an obstacle or crash."

Thirty states, including Hawaii, have laws aimed at protecting children from such crashes, but they are inadequate. For example, in Saturday's crash, a Hawaii provision allowing a person to sit unrestrained in the pickup bed if no seating is available in the cab was followed.

Also, businesses that serve the public are entirely exempt from the rules. That was the case in 2006, when four women, who were among 10 people riding in a pickup truck bed on their way to work on a farm in Ewa, were thrown to their deaths in a collision on Kunia Road.

Riding in the bed of a pickup generally is associated with farm roads, which is why most of the 20 states with no laws at all prohibiting riders in the back of pickups have large rural areas.

Hawaii's current law resulted from opposition to a comprehensive ban mainly from rural and neighbor island areas. A bill proposed two years ago would have required passengers in pickup beds in traffic to be "restrained by a seat belt assembly" but it would have exempted businesses.

The least that Hawaii legislators should require are restraints on freeways and busy streets, where pickups have become popular. For example, California allows an exemption for farmer-owned vehicles used exclusively within agricultural land.

Better yet is Senate Bill 692, proposed by Sens. Will Espero and Mike Gabbard but ignored in the current legislative session, which would forbid passengers on Oahu from sitting in a pickup's bed except in an emergency or in parades, caravans or exhibitions. That is a serious proposal that should be considered next year.