COLLEGE STATION – Texans love the open road – the sky achingly blue above, the blacktop highway straight and true, the breeze ruffling through the driver’s hair…

Texan Willie Nelson even sings about it: “On the road again…”

Could anything sound better?

Just don’t try to fulfill that tempting picture in the open bed of a pickup. And don’t ever let a child ride back there, say safety officials.

“Every year in Texas there are crashes involving children or adolescents riding in the bed of a pickup truck,” said Marlene Albers, program manager for rural passenger safety education for Texas Agricultural Extension Service.

Most often victims who survive these crashes sustain head injuries, which can take years of recovery, she said.

Too often victims don’t survive.

“These incidents take place not on the highway, but in neighborhoods,” residential areas or school zones, and many times at speeds of 30 miles an hour or less, she added.

One common scenario involves a pickup, a young high-school age driver and a load of his or her friends who are headed to a fast-food place on their lunch break from school. Someone will invariably sit on the edge of the pickup’s bed or on the wheel well, and when the vehicle hits a bump or turns a corner, that person is thrown from the pickup.

“We never refer to (these incidents) as accidents,” Albers said, “because accidents are predictable, and if someone is riding on the bed of a pickup, you can predict that’s an incident waiting to happen.

“It’s preventable by not riding in the open bed of a pickup.”

In Texas, where pickups are a favorite mode of transportation, incidents such as this are not uncommon.

Senior Trooper Eddie Carmon of Bryan, with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Safety Education Service, has seen his share of crashes, wrecks – incidents – involving people riding in the back of pickups. Too many of them involve young people who are killed or who receive life-long injuries.

“Teenagers like to ride in the open bed of pickups,” Carmon said. “Even at 30 miles an hour, it can kill you if you fall out.”

And the tragedy is incidents like this can be prevented by not allowing anyone to ride in the back of a pickup.

Unfortunately, for some people it’s not that simple. “Pickups, in Texas, are one of the most common vehicles you see on the road,” Carmon said. In many families, especially those who live in rural areas, the pickup may be the only family vehicle.

Because riding in the open bed of a pickup is so dangerous, it’s also illegal. Texas law, Section 545.414 states: “Riding in open beds; Offense (a) A person commits an offense if the person operates an open-bed pickup truck or an open flatbed truck or draws an open flatbed trailer at a speed of more than 35 miles per hour when a child younger than 12 years of age is occupying the bed of the truck or trailer. (b) An offense under this section is punishable by a fine of not less than $25 nor more than $200. (c) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the person was operating or towing the vehicle in an emergency.”

The Texas Agricultural Extension Service is working to prevent this kind of incident by educating drivers and the general public on the price paid for the ride in the back of a pickup, Albers said. Through a Rural Passenger Safety Program, a brochure called “Kids Aren’t Cargo” tells of the dangers of riding in the open bed of a pickup and how those dangers can be prevented.

According to the brochure:

– “Children and teenagers account for more than half of the deaths of passengers riding in the bed of a truck.”

– “Most non-collision deaths in a pickup truck bed are caused by swerving, braking or rough roads.”

– “Children in covered pickup beds are exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust.”

Prevention is simple. As the brochure states: “Buckle up everyone, every time, every trip!”

For more information contact your county agent or visit the Web site at http://fcs.tamu.edu/safety/


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