Recently in Auburn, one university student was seriously injured and another charged with DUI following a crash that occurred when several youth were riding in the bed of a pickup truck near South College Street.
The 22-year-old student is expected to survive, but accident lawyers in Tuscaloosa recognize it as only the latest in a long string of Alabama injuries resulting from passengers riding in truck beds.
It’s exactly this kind of incident that a recent Alabama state bill was poised to address. Alabama is one of only a handful of states that still allow people to legally ride in truck cargo beds. State lawmakers have been trying since 1998 to pass a provision that would prohibit this activity, but have so far been unsuccessful. Now, it seems the wait may be even longer, meaning we can expect to see even more injuries and deaths resulting from people riding in truck beds.
State House representatives had hoped the measure would gain momentum this year after a horrific crash last year killed four and injured five when a pickup truck carrying 10 children in the cargo bed flipped on U.S. 49 in Guntersville. Among the dead were a 13-year-old, an 18-year-old, a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old. None of those who died or injured were wearing seat belts because, of course, there are no seat belts in the beds of pickup trucks.
In that case, officials report the truck was traveling approximately 65-miles-per-hour. The group of friends was returning from a swim. When the driver lost control of the truck, apparently because a tire had blown out, all the passengers spilled out of the back as the truck overturned four times and caught fire.
State law doesn’t bar people from riding in the back of pickup trucks. It requires that anyone ages 14 and younger be properly restrained when riding in a motor vehicle. As U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Anniston was quoted as saying, a 3-year-old riding inside a pickup truck would have to be in a car seat or booster seat. However, under current law, that same small child could be placed in the back of a pickup truck unrestrained with no criminal consequence to the driver.
State troopers say they interpret the law to mean that no one under 15 can ride unrestrained anywhere in a vehicle.
Regardless, civil consequences are another matter. An experienced lawyer could easily argue in court that allowing someone to ride in the bed of a truck – particularly minors and especially when the vehicle isn’t well-maintained or the driver is drunk – is negligent.
A new bill that would have outlawed anyone under 19 from riding in the back of a pickup was tabled recently, with members of the Alabama House of Representatives carrying the bill over without a vote after just two hours of debate.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kerry Rich, was quoted as saying that the practice is extremely dangerous. However, he was unable to convince a number of legislators speaking on behalf of constituents in more rural areas.
Rich said it’s unlikely the bill will be debated again this session.
Alabama Bill to Ban Kids From Riding in Pickup Truck Beds Stalls, March 24, 2014, Staff Report, Claims Journal