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Kids and Pickup Trucks

State Capital Bureau

March 30, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ A 12-year-old St. Joseph girl was standing in back of a pick up truck holding a mattress earlier this year. When literally a gust of wind, blew her off the truck. She died at the scene.

Judith Fuston talked to the girl's parents at the funeral. Then, Fuston went into action.

She started lobbying lawmakers to pass a law that would make it a crime to let a child ride in the back of a pickup truck.

"Cargo riding in the back of pickup trucks must be tied down," said Fuston, coordinator of counseling services and staff development for St. Joseph Public Schools. "Yet we allow children on the back."

The logic of letting children ride on the back of pickup trucks escapes Fuston.

"Usually there is not even a wreck," she said. "But it is something like the car stops and starts suddenly or slides."

In 1993, a total of 129 persons were either killed or injured while ridding in the unclosed area of pickup trucks in Missouri.

Although these accidents do not represent a large percentage of the total traffic accidents, they are significant in that children are overly represented in these deaths, said Dan Needham, director of the Highway Safety Division. Of the 129 persons killed or injured, 39.2 percent were 14 years of age or younger, he said.

For the past several years, there have been legislative efforts to restrict riding in the back of pickup trucks.

But every year the proposals have been allowed to die in committee _ as is the case this year.

In the House, the pickup truck bill stalled in the House Transportation Committee. One of the committee members, Rep. Jim Montgomery, D-Cabool, said the bill is a bad idea. For many families the pickup truck is the family car, and families go to the river for picnic.

"Race cars drivers are much more dangerous than a person riding in the back of a pickup truck," he said. "At the same time there is much more danger in the Boston marathon that riding in the back of a pickup truck."

A rural area may no have a big transportation system, Montgomery said.

"I wouldn't be against the bill in big cities, but in rural areas it's a different story," he said.

"Also I don't see a lot of people packed in a pickup truck," he said.

But Joe Adler, with Missouri Head Injury Association, argues that if the legislation saved one person, it would be worth it, said

Young people between the ages of 10 and 19 represent more than half of the people were killed traveling in truck beds, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics.

Sally Albright was the teacher of 14-year-old Christina Rhodes, who died when the pickup truck she was riding got into an accident. She was sitting in the bed of the truck. The other members of her family in the cab of the pickup truck only sustained minor injured.

Albright said the legislation is necessary, and is also a question of common sense.

"According to General Motors, the sale of pickup trucks has increased in the recent years," she said. "If it is purchased as a family vehicle, the kids have to ride in the back."

Fuston stresses that the law she wants to see passed isn't supposed to be punitive. After all, most parents who put their children in the back of pickup trucks are well meaning, she said.

The bill would educate the people, she said. "To say, `Hey, think before you do that.' We hope this law will educate people like the seat belt and the drunk driving law has educated people."