After last weekend's tragic crash in which a 17-year-old River Hill High School football player was killed in Howard County, AAA Mid-Atlantic issues a warning against the dangers of riding in the bed of a pickup truck.
Stephen Joseph Dankos dies when he was thrown from the cargo area of a pickup truck that crashed while being driven by a friend's 22-year-old brother, who was subsequently charges with drunk driving, vehicular homicide and vehicular manslaughter.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 200 deaths occur every year on U.S. roads as a result of carrying passengers from pickup truck beds. AAA noted that the Maryland law forbidding riding in the back of a pickup truck does not apply to people 16 or older. It exempts those under 15 if the vehicle is traveling less than 25 mph.
"Children and teenagers account for more than half of the deaths that occur each year in this country as a result of riding in the cargo area of pickup trucks," said Ragina C. Averella, AAA Mid-Atlantic's Manager of Public and Government Affairs. "Few, if any, pickup trucks have seat belts in the back, and riding in the back of pickup trucks unrestrained is dangerous and deadly."
There may narrow, limited examples where the practice is acceptable. For instance, I have no problem with a farmer transporting adult workers between fields on low-traffic local roads at low speeds. But in general the practice is clearly unsafe. The cargo areas of pickup trucks are meant for that -- cargo. (And well secured cargo at that -- especially at interstate speeds.) The General Assembly should look at tightening the law.
Even wiithout legislation, parents can lay down their own laws. When a kid with a pickup truck picks up a teenager, Mom or Dad should anticipate that at some point the driver might try to overstuff the vehicle. As a parent, I'd also think twice about letting a son or daughter own or borrow a pickup without a compelling reason and clear rules regarding passengers in back.
DISCLAIMER: Several years ago, I did some riding along with my son in the back of a rented pickup to get to the beaches on a small Caribbean island with light road traffic. Obviously we survived, but in retrospect it wasn't such a hot idea.