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Riding In The Back of Pickup Trucks

Summer time and the living is easy, but think twice if you’re tempted to re-live one of the joys of your youth riding in the back of a pickup truck.  We examine a recent fatality in our state that reminds us of the danger involved in what used to be a common sight on eastern North Carolina roadways. 

Riding in the back of a pickup truck can conjure up memories from childhood…

“My father always drove slowly, and growing up as I did in a small town there weren’t many people around to scare you as much as there are now. It’s the first time as a child you’re not confined to the back seat…it’s a sense of freedom.”

But this seemingly carefree activity can be deadly.  On August 5th, a 13-year-old boy from Brunswick County died when he fell from the back of a pickup truck on a private road in the town of Supply.  John Paul Smith Jr. stood up in the truck bed as a 15-year-old friend driving the pickup was turning.  Smith lost his balance and fell from the truck and onto the ground.  Sergeant C.M Hardy with the State Highway Patrol office in Wilmington said the driver won’t be charged.

“it was a single vehicle wreck, it was in a neighborhood that had dirt roads.  The driver of the truck was a 15 year old male and they were driving in the actual neighborhood which is not state maintained roads when he made a right turn onto Red Bud road one of the passengers in the back stood up and the change of direction caused him to fall out of the truck. And when it did, the right rear tire of the truck struck him and he died at the scene.”

Sergeant Hardy says the trooper overseeing the incident reported no motor vehicle laws were broken and no charges will be filed.  The investigation also found that the truck was not being operated in a reckless manner. A fatality resulted from this incident even though the vehicle was only going 10 to 15 miles per hour.  Over the past four years, the number of incidents have decreased, most likely due to a state law that went into effect in 2008 that lays out concrete situations in which a person can legally ride in the back of a moving pickup truck.

“If you’re over 16 years of age, then of course you can ride back there with no problem.”

First Sergeant Jeff Gordon is the Public Information Officer with the State Highway Patrol. 

“however, you need to understand there’s always going to be a risk when you’re traveling in the back of a pickup truck that has no type of restraint, no type of overhead such as like a camper shell.”

North Carolina General Statue 20-135.2B makes it illegal to transport a child under the age of 16 in the bed of a pickup truck.  However, there are some exceptions.

“Number one, if you’re going to be doing that, you must have an adult in the back that can be supervising them.  You also must have a child in a child restraint device such as a seatbelt or something of that nature, and of course there’s always going to be situations what we call emergency situations that you have to put a child in the back and transport them.”

Sergeant Gordon adds the law does not apply to children who ride in the back of pickup trucks in parades.  Another exception to the state law is for agricultural enterprise.

“A farmer would have tobacco fields or whatever crop they were raising at the time and they would have to travel field to field, usually within a short distance.  And as a result, you’d have people in the back of the pickup trucks and sometimes those people were less than 16 years of age. And so that’s basically what that’s explaining.  It allows farmers who are engaged in what we call agriculture enterprise or farming and they travel from farm to farm or field to field, that provides then an exception to the law.”

Injuries and fatalities that result from a person falling from the bed of a pickup truck are rare.  But according to Senior Fellow at Action For Children North Carolina Tom Vitaglinone, incidents on agricultural lands are even more uncommon.

“North Carolina is very much a pickup state, lots of pickups sold in our state and a lot in the East. And because of the agricultural prevalence, there is more riding in the back of the pickup in the eastern part of the state.”

Vitaglionone says there’re fewer incidents on agricultural lands because trucks are usually driven slower and with more control.  Most fatalities occur on the highway when the person riding in the bed of the truck is thrown out due to a traffic accident.  On July 6th, 2009 in Hendersonville, an 11-year-old boy riding in the bed of a Ford F-150 died when another vehicle slammed into the side of the truck.  A six year old boy was also riding in the bed of the pickup at the time of the crash, but suffered only minor injuries.  Another incident in Randolph County less than a week earlier, saw a boy die when he was ejected from the back of a pickup. First Sergeant Jeff Gordon.

“As a driver, driving down the roadway, you can never anticipate when there’s a situation where you have to take evasive action, slam on the brakes or swerve to avoid a vehicle, an animal what have you and when that occurs, you’re going to have individuals in the back that are going to get thrown out.”

Sergeant Gordon says the North Carolina law regarding children in the bed of a truck is meant to save lives.   If you are transporting a child under 16 years of age, it’s considered an infraction and will result in a 25 dollar fine.

“there’s no court cost associated with that, and more importantly there’s no driver’s license points or insurance points. The law is in place mainly to protect children and we just hope people will kind of think before they put children back there.”

To see the state law in detail, we’ve provided a link at our website,  I’m Jared Brumbaugh.

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.