“I’m not hopeful,” she said. “I’m not optimistic. It would be a lovely surprise.”
McClellan’s son, Christopher, died on June 20, 1991, after being ejected from the bed of a pickup truck in Munds Park, near Flagstaff. He was 16.
“The driver was young and inexperienced, and she over-corrected and rolled the truck,” McClellan said. “He was ejected and died at the scene. And he shouldn’t have – he shouldn’t have been back there.”
McClellan has fought for a ban on unrestrained passengers ever since, but that legislation has repeatedly failed in both houses of the Legislature since 1985. Sponsors have come and gone, lawmakers have reversed their votes and the one bill that won legislative approval was vetoed by Gov. Jane Hull in 1998.
McClellan spoke in support of a new bill on Thursday before the House Transportation Committee, which voted 5-3 to endorse the legislation. But several committee members raised concerns that could signal difficulties ahead, notably how effective a ban could be and what role government should play in people’s safety decisions.
HB 2089, authored by Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, and co-sponsored by Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, originally would have prohibited anyone under 18 from riding in the back of an open vehicle unless properly restrained. But compromises and amendments approved Thursday loosened the proposed ban, including exceptions for those wearing helmets or riding in vehicles traveling under 35 mph.
“Amendments evolved to bring more folks online and willing to support the bill, especially some of our rural members and constituents,” Heinz said.
Republican Reps. Judy Burges of Skull Valley, Karen Fann of Prescott and Rick Gray of Sun City voted against the bill.
“We could go really nuts on legislating common sense, and I have to ask myself, where is the line?” Fann said.
“We cannot legislate away stupid,” Gray said.
Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, abstained from voting despite his work on the amendments.
Betty Garcia-Pendley, president of the Arizona Parent Teacher Association, said the committee’s discussion failed to differentiate the thinking of a reasonable adult from that of a teenager.
“Children don’t make common sense decisions,” she said. “If they could tell their friends, ‘I can’t do that. I don’t want a ticket.’ That might make the difference.”
Teenagers and children account for more than half of all cargo-area passenger deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, she said, adding that bans in other states have led to clear declines in fatalities.
While the amended bill’s exceptions mean it will no longer cover cases like her son’s, McClellan said it could still help someone else’s son or daughter.
“They have the power, by voting this into law, to save lives,” she said. “If they save one life, wouldn’t that be enough? It would have for me.”
• Emergency response situations
• Enclosed motor vehicles, campers or camper shells
• Organized parades
• Vehicles on private property
• Vehicles operating under 35 mph
• Operation by a farmer or rancher where the vehicle is used exclusively within the boundaries of lands owned or managed by the farmer or rancher
• Vehicles operated on Indian reservations
• Those restrained by lap belt or wearing a motorcycle-style safety helmet