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Lawmakers once again take up charge against kids in pickup beds

Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson. (Cronkite News Service photo)

Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson. (Cronkite News Service photo)

A bipartisan pair of state representatives hope to do what others have tried and failed to do for nearly 20 years: expand a ban on unrestrained minors in the backs of trucks.

Reps. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, and Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, have co-sponsored a bill that would prohibit anyone under 18 from riding in the back of an open vehicle unless properly restrained.

Current law prevents minors under 15 from riding unrestrained in any vehicle but allows children to ride in pickup truck beds once the seats in the cab are filled.

“It’s a major public health and safety concern,” Heinz said. “You have to restrain your refrigerator or a deer carcass for example by state law, but you don’t have to restrain a 4-year-old.”

But questions over the role of government and the chances of success stalled this session’s bill Thursday in the House Transportation Committee.

“It comes down to a fundamental question: Is government responsible for your kids or are you responsible for your kids?” said Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale.

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Weiers sponsored similar legislation in 2004 but said he was plagued by those ideological concerns. This time, he brought those concerns up in committee and asked that the bill be held to address them.

“I was told by lots of people, ‘Don’t waste your time. You won’t get it through,’” he said.

This session’s version includes exemptions for emergencies, parades, private property and vehicles

traveling at or below 35 mph. It targets the most unsafe situations involving high speeds and busy roadways, Heinz said.

“Those are the situations and circumstances in which children could sustain the most damage and likely have fatalities if involved in an accident,” he said. “[Exemptions] protect from undue restriction, especially in rural areas.”

In 2009, 495 Arizona passengers sustained incapacitating or fatal injuries from crashes without safety devices in any type of vehicle, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Last session, a similar bill passed the Senate 19-8 but was held in the House.

“I’m very persistent, and so is Representative Goodale,” Heinz said. “We have folks in our districts who have been specifically requesting we move on this legislation, and that is empowering.”

Rochelle Wells, president-elect for the Arizona Parent Teacher Association, said similar bans have succeeded in surrounding states while the battle continues in Arizona.

“I don’t think people realize how serious it is to be unrestrained in the back of a pickup truck,” Wells said. “It seems like an innocent act … so it’s our job as advocates to educate people.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records about 50 deaths yearly involving passengers in the bed of a pickup truck, she said, and bans in other states have brought that number down.

Officer Robert Bailey, an Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman, said his agency always encourages some kind of safety restraint.

“It happens in rural areas, it happens here,” he said. “Everyone should be buckled up. We’re never not going to say that.”

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